Rob Powell (Strategic Director, Resources) introduced Chris Baird -Interim Assistant Director for Education Services and Matt Biggs - Education and Early Years Strategy and Commissioning Manager to the committee explaining that they would also be presenting the report to the committee.
Rob Powell reminded the committee that on January 1st, 2023, the admissions service transferred to Education Services to ensure a more integrated approach. The committee was reminded of the activities of the admissions service which can be found in paragraph 1.5 of the report.
The report presented to the committee was completed following a review and conclusion from an independent reviewer following significant problems with the in-year admission process during the summer of 2022. Warwickshire County Council commissioned the review to ensure they were open and transparent and to allow officers to learn from when things don’t go according to plan.
Rob Powell gave sincere apologies to children, parents, carers, and elected members that things went wrong stating that it was avoidable stress. The core issue was a poorly introduced change which has now been embedded in and has significantly improved.
It was noted that once problems became apparent, officers were able to move quickly and all issues were resolved by the 16th September 2022. Rob Powell confirmed that by January 2023 the service was 100% compliant and this reflects the stabilisation of the process.
The report identified six related factors which caused the issues over the summer of 2022 –
1. high demand for in-year applications, caused in some part by
increasing demographic movement into the County including children
arriving through the Homes for Ukraine scheme;
2. the decision to deploy an untested automated process for in-year
3. a lack of consistent and appropriate communication with families and
4. the Council and schools not sharing timely data and school place
5. a lack of live data and management information to enable effective
oversight of service performance
6. unclear responsibilities and accountabilities for the admissions
The committee noted that there are 7 recommendations highlighted in the report that will be part of the improvement plan. The new assistant director for Education, Johnny Kyriacou, starts at Warwickshire County Council on 1st March 2023 and has been tasked with the implementation of the improvement plan, to be completed by the end of March 2024.
Chris Baird asked the committee to note that the current actions and work that is still underway, started before the service moved to Education Services. In addition, the service is receiving fewer complaints now which is a sign that things are improving. Work is continuing to build up the confidence and skills of the team; including the response to correspondence such as emails and letters. The backlog of communication issues has been cleared. Everything will be captured in the action plan which is to be completed by the end of March 2023.
The Chair stated that the committee would like their apologies to be noted in the minutes. Warwickshire County Council has learnt a lot of lessons and has worked hard to put it right. It is commendable how the service responded in recognising the errors made; the committee members appreciate and recognise this.
Councillor Robert Tromans added that that the committee appreciated the summary of what had happened and is glad to see that it has put on record. Councillor Tromans then asked what has been done to repair the poor relations with schools. Rob Powell confirmed that the admissions team had not been used to building relationships with schools, but this has since changed. Matt Biggs added that the relationship between the admissions team and parents and schools is fundamental. Face to face meeting have been arranged with schools who raised concerns about the service and there is now a growing network of support.
Councillor Sarah Boad thanked Rob Powell for bringing the report to the committee, adding that it can’t have been an easy report for officers to write. Councillor Boad asked why the schools were not sending back the information needed by the admissions team in a timely manner? Rob Powell confirmed that information had been requested but that officers had not give a reason or clarification for the request and the request was not chased in timely fashion. When the schools were asked for it again and with clear reasoning, it was provided in a matter of days.
Matt Biggs confirmed that Warwickshire County Council takes full responsibility for the communication errors, adding that there is now a new portal in place; a data exchange platform. The schools add the data to the platform and officers can see it straight away. Some schools are experiencing issues with the new portal and are being supported by officers.
The Chair requested that feedback from the committee, noted in the minutes, be reported back to officers. The committee accepts that mistakes were made but that the candour of the staff in resolving these issues should be noted. The committee appreciated the way the problems were handled and wished their thanks to Rob to be noted, for coming to the committee and being so honest.
The Overview and Scrutiny Committee:
1. considers and comments on the Review of the in-year school admissions process (Appendix 1);
2. asks the Chair to share the Review with the Chair of the Children and Young People’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee;
3. notes the position in respect of legal powers in respect of school admissions (Appendix 2);
4. notes and comments on progress with the systems review of the Admissions Service.