Cabinet Portfolio Holders and Assistant Directors are invited to provide any updates they have on issues within the remit of the Committee.
Councillor Jeff Morgan (Portfolio Holder – Children & Families) informed the committee that the children’s home in Stratford had not opened yet because Ofsted had not conducted a site visit. All DBS checks had been approved and it was ready to open. The second children’s home will be in Leamington and will be decorated and cleaned after the current tenants move out. The third home will be in East Nuneaton. A possible forth children’s home would be in North Warwickshire and would be for children with disabilities.
John Coleman (Assistant Director – Children & Families) added that they had learnt lessons from opening the Stratford children’s home and it was the first one Warwickshire County Council (WCC) opened since 1986. The registered manager had already been appointed for the Leamington home and it had been advertised for the Nuneaton home. All homes will be open by December 2023.
Councillor Isobel Seccombe (Leader of the Council) informed the committee that there were two processes with admissions. One is the change from children going up to schools with older pupils e.g. children going from primary school to secondary school. This went better this year than the previous year. The other admissions process is the in-year admissions which is when children move schools but this not being because of their age e.g. when a child within the county wants to move schools to another one or a new child in the county needs a school placement. These kinds of admissions are done throughout the year and they stay fairly static each year. In March 2022, the Council moved to a new online admissions system which will be beneficial in the long term. 11 out of 26 staff members in the admissions team left by summer 2022 and the team leadership did not raise the time delay issue of the system and moved on too. Vacancy data was not sent it by 1/3 of Warwickshire’s schools and they were closed during the summer holidays so they could not provide this data.
When the Leader and Portfolio Holder were made aware of these problems the Leader requested daily updates. The team worked hard to clear the backlog despite the phones ringing and lack of staff. The Council has a legal requirement to place children within 14 school days which was met for everybody as school holidays do not count in these dates. Councillor Seccombe requested a report into the project to investigate what went wrong.
In response to Councillor Barbara Brown, Councillor Seccombe stated that the team was not fully staffed but the system was working now.
In response to Councillor Jill Simpson-Vince, Nigel Minns said that the admissions team had been working long hours under a lot of pressure to deal with the in-year admission issue that the service they should be able to provide had slipped. These standards should return to normal now for schools with other queries. Councillor Seccombe requested that any issues schools had during this period should be fed back to her.
Following a question from Councillor Jo Barker, Nigel Minns said that these issues arose because there was a change in code for admissions from central government, so the new system was implemented to accommodate this new code, as well as the reasons raised earlier. There were 8000 in-year admissions last year and there were 1600 in August 2022.
In response to Councillor Jerry Roodhouse, Councillor Seccombe said that the report will be fed back to CYP OSC as well as Resources OSC (as the admissions team sat within the Resources Directorate). The Chair noted that the material effect of the admissions team was felt within this OSC.
Councillors Humphreys and Seccombe praised the hard work done by the admissions team to clear the backlog.
In response to Councillor Brian Hammersley, Councillor Seccombe said she did not know if any asylum-seeking children impacted the admission numbers. Councillor Morgan said that Coventry dealt with this more and supply teachers would go into hotels hosting them to teach them. It was noted that there were similar hotels in Stratford and Rugby. The Home Office ran these hotels and managed them all differently education-wise. John Coleman said that refugee families were encouraged to apply for school/nursery admission placements normally.
In response to Councillor Pete Gilbert, Councillor Seccombe said the review should include if working from home affected staff ability.
Following a question from the Chair, Councillor Seccombe agreed to find out the time frame of the review.