The Cabinet Member for Children and Young People’s Services and the Assistant Director – Education attended the meeting to provide a presentation on how the Education service had been working to deliver the education recovery in the Borough during the 2020/21 Academic Year. The report also provided an overview of activity and a review of key areas of education across the Borough in the current academic year including Elective Home Education.
The Assistant Director - Education made a presentation that provided information on:
· Early Years provision.
· Primary and Secondary education provision, including recovery activity and the ongoing impact of the pandemic.
· the activity that had been carried out by the Rotherham Education Strategic Partnership to address the challenges across the education system created by the pandemic.
· the work that had been carried out in engaging with school leaders across the Borough to drive forward the education recovery.
· School attendance during 2020/21 and how it had been impacted by large numbers of children and young people isolating due to Covid-19.
· the Rotherham Inclusion Pathway.
· Elective Home Education and the increase in numbers of children and young people being home educated, the challenges that this presented, and the action being taken to address these challenges.
· the engagement activity that had been carried out with parents and carers.
· the surveys that had been carried out with pupils across the Borough on the impact of the pandemic and the activity being carried out as a result of the information gathered.
The Assistant Director provided information on the key challenges with regard to delivery of the education recovery across the Borough including:
· the increasing number of pupils and students with Social Emotional and Mental Health needs.
· the impact on School leaders and staff wellbeing as they faced the daily uncertainty of staffing levels in schools.
· the impact of staff absence on the delivery of catch-up interventions.
· ensuring that the breadth of the curriculum was not reduced for the most vulnerable pupils as they attended reading, writing or maths catch-up activities.
· ensuring that pupils and students who were self-isolating had the opportunity to keep up with their studies.
· the long-term impact of the pandemic on the education of vulnerable children and young people.
· the development on social interaction skills in early years as children learnt to interact with others after long periods of isolation from children and adults outside of their immediate family.
· the lack of assessment for primary children that had inhibited the understanding of the impact of the pandemic on educational attainment and progress of children and young people throughout the education system.
· notwithstanding the impact of the pandemic on school improvement, the need to increase the number of schools judged by Ofsted as being good or better.
The Cabinet Member for Children and Young People’s Services noted her concerns around the lack of formal assessments that had been able to be carried and how this impacted on the ability of schools to measure the progress that pupils had made. The Cabinet Member also expressed her concern around young people who had received centre assessed GSCE and A Level grades and how the related grade inflation may be perceived negatively by potential employers.
The Cabinet Member noted the Year of Reading that was currently taking place across the Borough and encouraged all members to get involved with activities in their local areas.
Members asked for further information around the use of supply teachers during the pandemic and whether there had been sufficient numbers available in order to ensure that catch-up activities in English and Maths were delivered. The Assistant Director advised that ensuring access to high quality supply provision had been challenging but advised that retired teachers had been encouraged to return to the classroom in order to increase the number of staff available to cover absences.
Members noted the concerns that had been detailed in the presentation regarding the disproportionally negative impact that the pandemic had had on already disadvantaged children and young people and asked for further information on what was being done to address this. The Assistant Director advised that during periods of “lockdown” that it had been a key priority to ensure that the most disadvantaged pupils had access to the full school offer in order as far as possible to mitigate the impact on their learning. The Assistant Director noted however that not all disadvantaged pupils had attended school during periods of lockdown and advised that these pupils, along with all disadvantaged pupils were a priority for schools in the delivery of their catch-up activities. The Assistant Director also noted the numerous education recovery projects across the Borough that aimed to support the most disadvantaged children catch-up with their learning.
Members noted the impact of parent/carer anxiety during the pandemic and the impact that this had on school attendance with parents/carers not sending their children to school. Members asked how this situation was being managed in order to ensure that all children attended school. The Assistant Director advised that parent/carer anxiety about the sending their children to school was managed and reduced by ensuring clear channels of communication between the school and parents/carers that provided timely, clear and consistent messaging, as poor communication and unclear messaging acted to increase anxiety for parents/carers and consequently impacted on pupil absences.
Members noted their concern about the growing numbers of children in receipt of Elective Home Education and asked that a report be circulated to members of the Improving Lives Select Commission on the impact of the revised Elective Home Education Policy that had been introduced in 2021.
Members asked for further information around the concerns that had been expressed in the presentation and by the Cabinet Member around the impact on centre assessed grades for the young people who had been subject to this method of assessment. The Assistant Director noted that an area of particular concern was around young people transitioning to Further Education and how the gaps in their learning would impact on that transition. The Assistant Director advised that it was currently difficult to assess the full impact and how long this impact would last across all cohorts of children on their education and subsequent life chances. The Assistant Director confirmed that this uncertainty was a significant challenge that would need to be addressed.
Members noted their approval for the wide ranging Covid Surveys that had been carried out with children and young people across the Borough in order to gather their experiences of the pandemic and how it had impacted on their lives and education. Members noted their concern on the number of children and young people who had stated in the surveys that that had felt were unable to ask for the help that they needed and asked how this issue would be addressed. The Assistant Director noted that there would have been a wide range of reasons why children and young people had stated this but assured members that the level and amount of support that was available in schools to support children and young people had increased greatly since the start of the pandemic. The Assistant Director assured members that the findings from the surveys had been shared with schools so that action could be taken to address areas of concern that the surveys had highlighted. The Assistant Director advised that in the light of the pandemic that the Social, Emotional and Mental Health needs of pupils was an area of particular focus for schools with schools increasing levels of pastoral support to support the needs of their pupils.
Members noted the phonics assessments that had been taken in primary schools and noted with concern the gap in attainment in these tests between children who were in receipt of free school meals and those who were not. Members asked what action was being addressed this gap in attainment. The Assistant Director confirmed that phonics was a national priority, and that additional support was being provided in schools to those pupils who required extra support as part of the programme of catch-up activities. The Assistant Director advised that attainment in phonics testing had been impacted by the lack of socialisation and the development of social skills by children who had spent a substantial part of their life isolated from adults and children outside of their family group. The Assistant Director advised that full details on the phonics assessments would be circulated to members as soon as the final results had been validated.
The Vice-Chair thanked the Cabinet Member for Children and Young People’s Services and the Assistant Director – Education for attending the meeting and answering member questions.