Agenda item

Attendance of Portfolio Holder for Children's Services (Lead Member)

This annual report provides an account of the role of the Lead Member for Children’s Services as identified in the Department for Education Statutory Guidance on the Roles and Responsibilities of the Director of Children’s Services (DCS) and the Lead Member for Children’s Services (LMCS) (DfE 2012). This report details the areas covered by the Lead Member for Children’s Services and covers the period from February 2022 until March 2023.





Councillor Josie Iles, Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services was in attendance and took questions from the Committee.


Members raised several questions and comments which included:


  • Children’s Improvement Plan – it was asked what assurance could be given of the department’s ability to sustain the improvements made to date now that it was no longer subject to monitoring of Special Education and Disabilities (SEND). The Portfolio Holder stated that whilst sufficient progress had been achieved which resulted in no longer being subject to monitoring visits, they would continue to receive support as well as appropriate challenge where necessary. It would be an ongoing process through various work streams to sustain progress such as sustained support to the parents’ and carers’ forum and continued review of practices.


  • High Needs Block Deficit – it was challenged that the Committee had been assured six months ago through a detailed report on tackling the high needs deficit and was now being advised that this could not be resolved. It was asked what was being done to hold the department to account on the Ten-year recovery plan. The Portfolio Holder stated that the report was clear that the forecast did not turn out as expected, was being reviewed and would form part of the SEND Strategy that would be presented to the Committee at its next meeting. Officers added that the report detailed why the high needs recovery plan would not meet its forecast targets. The service continued to experience pressure such as increased specialist provision which incurred high costs as well as increased children with EHC plans. The expected percentage in growth in High Needs funding over the next 10 years would be significantly lower than forecasted, and the current plan would not revolve the deficit issue in 10 years. To maintain the current plans forecast, annual growth would need to be reduced by 50% and this was not a viable option.


  • Data - it was highlighted that one of the concerns of the Ofsted monitoring visits in 2021 and in the latest report was that the electronic reporting system introduced in April 2021 was not accurately recording data and the Portfolio Holder was asked how confident she was in its accuracies. The Portfolio Holder stated that as far as she was aware the data was accurate and had to be looked at alongside the commentary provided which explained any variances. Officers added that the issue with data was complex. A new system was put in place in April 2021 and the introduction of the forms with the practice model which mapped through the system meant that the system would need to be reworked and mapped for a considerable amount of time to ensure its efficiency and accuracy. If data presented with any anomalies, they were addressed as they were recognised, and changes were built into the system as appropriate. Ofsted used a different reporting tool and the data tool they used at the time of inspection highlighted some inaccuracies. The data team was aware of and worked to address those issues. These types of problems were consistent with the implementation of a new system which took time to work through.


  • Workforce and Recruitment – in response to a question on what further intervention could be put in place to address workforce issues, the Portfolio Holder stated that recruitment and retention of staff was a national issue. The pandemic had a great impact on an area which had already been problematic for Local Authorities across the country. The department was continuously exploring different strategies to manage the market and ensure provision was in place to meet the needs of children through a robust workforce.


It was asked how many of the social workers that had been recruited from overseas were still with the department. Officers said that 12 social workers had been recruited and were all still in post. The possibility of overseas recruitment remained an option.



  • Exclusions - in response to Members’ concerns about the high instances of exclusion rates in Medway, the Portfolio Holder stated that they were working on an action plan in the Corporate Parenting subgroup to explore various ways of tackling this issue.



  • Education Health Care Plan (EHCP) Wait List - a concern was highlighted that 66% of children received their EHCP within 20 weeks, officers stated that the National average for receipt of EHCP within 20 weeks was 52%. The SEND strategy that was being worked on would seek to address access to provision for children and young people and resources that could be put in place whilst they were waiting for assessment. The Draft strategy would be presented to the Committee at its next meeting.


In response to a question on the high instance of refusal rates for ECHPs which was evident nationally and concern on what could be done to better support parents with their application, Officers said that the refusal rates were around 50/60% as not all children met the threshold. Parents and Carers had the right to make an application for support and further work needed to take place to support parents in their abilities to submit clear, detailed applications.


The Vice - Chair thanked the Portfolio Holder for her attendance and engagement with Members.




The Committee noted the report.


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