Agenda item - Chair's Communications

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Agenda item

Chair's Communications


3.1       The Chair gave the following communications:


“As a political administration we believe in the importance of setting clear priorities and being accountable for their delivery.


When we came to office last year, we inherited a legacy of political indecision and drift in how the council was seeking to improve the life-chances and educational performance of our city’s 50,000 children and young people.


While we must acknowledge the good work that people were doing to address these difficult challenges, the local authority’s Ofsted inspection report – completed just before the last election – made it clear that children’s services ‘required improvement’. In short, the city lacked ambition.


As the report from the Director of Children’s Services and his team shows, both the political leadership and council staff at every level have worked tirelessly these past months, to deliver some tangible results. A lot of progress has been made. There is still a lot more work to do.


I would like to draw out some of the challenges and highlights of what the administration has achieved since May 2015, as well as set out what we expect to achieve in the forthcoming municipal year.


Our priorities, and what we believe the electorate should hold us to account on, is to target increasingly stretched council budgets on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our communities. That means transforming and modernising how we deliver these vital public services.


Second, we must continue to take this authority on an improvement journey so that Ofsted grades our children’s and social services as at least ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ by 2019.


Third, it is important that we continue to work collaboratively with our ‘family of schools’ – including the city’s small number of academies; to raise attainment standards; and close the disadvantage gap.


And finally, we want to end the scourge of long-term youth unemployment in our city by 2020, creating an additional one thousand apprenticeships over the next 3 years. It includes trebling the number of apprentices that the council currently employs.


This ambitious set of priorities is for the Committee to scrutinise and for the Administration to deliver on. They are only achievable of course within the context of central government cuts that has seen an unprecedented reduction of 40 per cent in local authority budgets.


Our families and children are not immune from these government cuts. In Brighton and Hove some families have paid a heavy price for the ideology of austerity. It has meant reducing the number of designated Sure Start Children’s Centres – a landmark achievement of the last Labour Government – from 12 to 7.


The scaling back of youth services; cuts to further education colleges; and welfare cuts have taken millions of pounds out of the local economy. These heartless central government cuts are a major factor in the growing use of food banks by some families in the city. Of equal concern is the fact young people report increased mental health and emotional well-being difficulties in our schools.


This is all the consequence of a myopic government that is failing to invest adequately in the long-term future of our children and young families. It shows up in the fact that the city ranks 156 out of 324 local authorities in England in terms of the official definition of social mobility. The rhetoric of government ministers is of boosting life chances, but the evidence here on the ground tells a very different story.


Despite these national challenges, the Labour administration locally is firmly committed to ensuring that our values of fairness and social justice underscore every decision that we make.


It’s why in the past year – despite cuts to other council service areas of over 30 per cent – we have protected children’s services budgets by reducing them, on average, by 9 per cent. The youth service budget for the community and voluntary sector has been fully protected in cash terms. Indeed, we were able to achieve this by turning around a projected overspend in children’s services spending of £3 million, inherited from the previous Green Party administration.


In addition, we have made significant efficiency savings by re-organising our social work teams better and reducing our reliance on expensive agency staff. This has resulted in fewer children on protection plans and a reduction in the number of children at risk coming into or staying for longer than is necessary, in care. We have achieved these results – not by lowering risk thresholds – but by intervening with families much earlier.


I’m extremely proud of the work of our 70 schools: head-teachers, governors, teachers and support staff. Currently, Ofsted rates 84% of our schools as ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding.’


We should celebrate the fact that our city has no schools judged to be inadequate by Ofsted; our attainment results were in the top quartile of national attainment levels last year; and our special educational needs provision is judged outstanding at Downs View and Hillside special schools, in both our specialist nurseries and in Tudor House Children’s Home for children with disabilities.


Despite a challenging time with the SEND and learning support services reviews, changes made following the formal consultation demonstrated that we are an administration that is prepared to consult, listen and act on concerns.


But we must also be open and honest about the challenges. Not a single secondary school in the city is judged outstanding. The government’s Social Mobility Commission ranks the city in the bottom 40 per cent of local authorities in England on schooling performance linked to social mobility. We are in the bottom 20% when linked to GCSE performance and free school meals pupils (FSM).


Last summer’s results showed that the pupil premium and free-school meals gap in the city is widening. In short, our head teachers and the secondary schools they lead need to do much better. I’m asking Heads in particular to focus with renewed vigour on the progress of our disadvantaged students. The review of catchment areas and school admissions policies has a key part to play in ensuring fairness.


But if we continue to see the disadvantage gap widen, I personally will have no hesitation in summoning chairs of governors and head teachers to this Committee to explain in person why they continue to fail this important group of students.


Our efforts will be made more complicated of course by a Secretary of State for Education that appears hell bent on destroying parental involvement and local democratic accountability of schools in England.


As councillors across the country, including many Conservative local government leaders and MPs spoke out against the White Paper, it was a pity that the local Conservative group chose to stay largely silent on the matter.


Over the next year, a progressive Labour administration in the city will look to reinvent the role of the local authority in education. We are determined to future-proof our schools from the kind of outside interference that local parents have said they do not want.


Let me be clear about what is politically non-negotiable from the point of view of any new ways of working locally:


All council maintained schools should continue to be locally accountable to their elected representatives and parents. We will not agree to any new arrangements that simply force the conversion of our schools by the back door.


But equally, simply doing nothing is not a realistic option either. Council maintained schools already enjoy a significant amount of autonomy. I’ve always thought the idea of ‘local authority control’ of schools a bit of a misnomer in the twenty-first century. And frankly, we only deceive the electorate if we promise them council control of schools when in fact no such powers exist.


Locally of course we do and can influence schools, which is what we should continue to do. In the case of schools causing concern, we will use our powers to intervene.


Our schools should be properly enabled to collaborate with one another in a genuine race to the top, in order to improve educational outcomes for all. That will require some better ways of working, schools sharing resources and expertise in a more meaningful way – especially in the area of tackling the disadvantage gap. And our council maintained schools should work more closely with existing academies, in the interests of all children, not ideology.


So, via this Committee in the next year:


·         We will continue to press ahead with social work reforms, including boosting the number of in-house foster parents.


·         We will take the council’s corporate parenting role to the next level by introducing a Care Leavers’ Trust Fund.


·         We will keep our excellent council run nurseries in public ownership, as well as reform the workforce to reduce the required levels of subsidy. Investing in the early years in disadvantaged parts of the city will be a major priority, including rolling out 30 hours of free childcare.


·         We will establish a Youth and Employability Trust, re-focusing our youth offer around a more concerted skills and employability agenda.


·         We will follow through on the recommendations of the Employer Skills Task Force ensuring business is put in the driving seat locally, particularly when it comes to economic regeneration and education.


·         We will continue to push schools to hire more apprentices, which is essential if the council is to get back some of the Levy it will start paying over to government from next April.


All these things add up to one over-arching goal of this Administration:


To ensure Brighton and Hove becomes the best place in Britain to bring up a child, the best place if you find yourself in foster care.


A city where education and employment opportunities are made available to all regardless of the postcode in which people live. Ultimately, that is what improving life chances in our city should be all about.”



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