Agenda item

Attendance of the Portfolio Holder for Education and Schools

This report (to follow) details the areas covered by the Portfolio Holder for Education and Schools for the period from April 2022 until March 2023. In the case of education services, it covers the academic year 2021-2022 and activity during that year and then the first half of the current school year.






Councillor Martin Potter, Portfolio Holder for Education and Schools was in attendance and took questions from the Committee.


Members raised several questions and comments which included:


Transport – in response to a question on the effects of the national shortage of taxi drivers, the Cabinet Member said that this was an issue for SEND school transport provision. The Council was working to reduce its reliance as it was an expensive way to fund school transport, and this was an area on ongoing challenge.


Mainstream School Transport - it was asked what consideration had been given to automatic provision of a school bus pass for pupils that lived in rural parts of the borough without having to go through an application process. The Cabinet Member said that whilst he understood that challenge of safe walking routes for pupils in rural areas, it was important the school transport policy be a fair and inclusive process for all. It was agreed that the policy may need to be reviewed to ensure that it was clear on grounds for appeal and did not delay in instances where the school pass would be granted at appeal stage.


Completion of school buildings - In response to a question on the delay for completion of school buildings and the drivers for the delay, the Cabinet Member said that in the instance of the Maritime academy, the school should have been open two years ago. The DfE was responsible for this project which the Council had no control over. Whilst there were associated costs involved in provision of transport for children to the temporary site, it would have cost more to expand current schools and create bulge classes to accommodate the pupils. The children had adapted very well at the Twydall temporary site, experienced very minimal impact from travel and the facilities were excellent.


Attainment- it was commented that there was a lack of mention of attainment in the report and it was asked what level of awareness there was of underperformance of education trusts and the plans for improvement. The Cabinet Member said this was deliberate as it has been extensively covered by the Annual Schools Performance report. The inspection framework stated that there was increased number of good and outstanding school than previously. The attainment data highlighted a downward trajectory despite schools being good overall and this was down to several factors. There had been investment into improvement of attainment prior to Covid but schools were shut down for a lengthy period as a result of the pandemic. This seriously impacted all the hard work that had been done to improve standards, attainment was not where it needed to be but with intensive support, the teaching hub, schools and alliance working together to improve standards, it was envisaged that attainment levels would begin rise once again as it was vital to return to the position that Medway was in prior to 2019. The report outlined the efforts to date by improvements boards, engagement and strengthening of leadership and there was confidence that schools were well led.


It was further commented by a Member that achievement of pupils post Covid was a result of a number of factors, which included young people finding that period extremely difficult, issues with inept management of schools on a national level and failings of national teaching. The Cabinet Member said that it was now important to understand the consequences and effect the pandemic had on pupils and to engage with them on support measures.


It was asked and agreed for a briefing note to update members on the situation with Early Career Teachers due to the issues with recruitment in the workforce.


Delay to improvement of attainment levels – it was asked what factors could potentially delay post pandemic recovery and the prospect of securing funding for specialised work to tackle identified factors. The Cabinet Member said that persistent absence was a cause for concern and an area of priority for all in education as a trend had been identified throughout the pandemic period with some families not engaging. It was vital to understand the reasons behind occurrences and to identify ways to address issues. Funding for specialised projects would require lobbying government.


Dynamics – the work of Dynamics, Medway music and education centre was praised as they were considered a centre of excellence. Concern was expressed at the proposals by the DfE and the Arts Council to merge Dynamics with Kent Music which was in the Country’s bottom 5% for their music education. It was asked if there would be a plan to ensure that this unique level of music excellence could retain a level of independence. The Cabinet Member said that this would be a decision for Dynamics on the role they take in Medway depending on the outcome of current consultation that was being undertaken. Dynamics was dependant on Arts Council funding and if a model was put in place by them that excluded Dynamics this would result in a huge challenge with funding and would mean there would be another provider in operation in Medway. The most important thing was to continue to advocate for Dynamics as it was one of the best performing music hubs in the Country and their achievements were outstanding.


Grammar Schools- it was asked what exploration had taken place on satellite provision of a grammar school in the Peninsula and what consultation had taken place with families to find out what they wanted in the area. The Cabinet Member said that when putting forward proposals for expansion or new build of a school, standard practice was to engage in informal and then a formal consultation. Any suggested proposal for a site in the Peninsula would go through the same formal process at the appropriate stage. Discussions had taken place with a Trust regarding a potential site for a grammar annex and if the Co-Educational proposals that had been put forward were approved by the Regional Director. The children that attended would be children that would otherwise be attending those particular schools. Many children currently travelled into Chatham and Rochester from across the river to attend a grammar school and this was a choice made by their parents which could be seen as a potential positive reason for the provision of a grammar annex in the Peninsula.


Concern was raised at the proposals of changes to increase the Medway test pass rate from 25% to 38% and this may not ensure that Medway children would fill up all the grammar school places and could end up putting considerable strain on non-selective school places. By raising the pass mark and also consideration of an additional site in the Peninsula, there was a risk that the issue with surplus places would remain, and those places would be filled by out of borough pupils.


The Vice - Chairman thanked the Portfolio Holder for his attendance and engagement with Members.





 The Committee noted the report.


Supporting documents: