4.1 The Chair reminded the committee that at the last meeting on 17 October, owing to prolonged consideration of proposed budget cuts, there had been insufficient time for committee members to ask questions about the evidence provided by the Head of Public Protection and Safety. Members were now invited to put forward their questions and comments.
4.2 The committee noted that:
· Food had been a significant unifier in Glasgow’s implementation of the public health model
· Lewisham is far more diverse than Glasgow so food may not be the same common ‘language’
· Food is still relevant. Families in Glasgow had reported that it was a powerful tool and had not felt like a handout, but a more dignified approach. Sharing food provided the opportunity for families to talk openly and eat healthily
· Lewisham has a lot of community strengths through schools, the Youth Service, community groups. There could be dialogue about how to build on these strengths and assets to move towards a public health approach
· A community project in Telegraph Hill Ward is providing hot meals to young people, which is bringing the community together and increasing the welfare of residents.
4.3 The Chair invited those members that had attended school visits, Fair Access Panel (FAP) and the Independent Review Panel (IRP) to report their observations. In addition, Cedric Whilby and Dom Herlihy, independent review panellists, were invited to address the committee. The Committee made the following observation:
Fair Access Panel
1. Lack of BAME representation on the primary FAP
2. Both the primary and secondary FAPs were well run and presented lots of good examples of schools working together
3. It appeared that some heads were protective of their territory
4. The FAPs handled very difficult cases with great sensitivity
5. Abbey Manor College, Lewisham’s Pupil Referral Unit (PRU), had been represented at the secondary FAP. The representative clearly demonstrated that he knew the children well, and was working hard and cooperatively with schools
6. One Member noted with surprise that FAP had been asked to consider a situation where a pupil was struggling with learning rather than behaviour
7. When a parent is offered a Managed Move for their child as an alternative to exclusion, all of the paperwork is in place and the school is ready to exclude. The parent’s choice at that point is MM or exclusion.
8. Year 11 cases always go to FAP as it is an important year when students sit their GCSEs
9. New arrivals go to FAP for need to be assessed to ensure they are placed in the right education setting, and with links to post-16 opportunities. The family has an input and FAPs recommendation can only be implemented with parental consent.
10.FAP is a forum for heads to discuss complex cases. Only the decisions are minuted, to allow free and frank discussion.
11.Managed Moves (MM) can be at the point of exclusion, but school are encouraged to consider it at an earlier point. A MM could be appropriate where there are ongoing behavioural problems that a clean start elsewhere may help to resolve, or where there has been a communication breakdown between the family and the school.
12.Many parents request a managed move rather than an in-year transfer as that way the school knows the child’s history.
13.MMs should be limited to one during the child’s schooling to avoid school hopping.
Exclusions Independent Review Panel
14.The IRP was a more formal process, comprising 3 panel members. Cllr John Paschoud had observed the panel, but had not been allowed to observe the deliberations.
15.There appeared to be little scope for the IRP to change the decision. The IRP was bound by DfE guidelines. These provide that the IRP can refer a decision back to the governing body in the event that the school has made a procedural error. Even then, the school can be fined but the decision would stand.
16.The panel plays a semi-judicial role and does not allow the deliberations to be observed in case the appellant argues undue influence.
17.The panel’s opportunity to reject the school’s conclusions is extremely limited. The panel extensively tests where there are grounds for judicial review.
18.The most common reason for the panel to uphold an appeal is procedural error.
19.One review panellist had concerns about the quality of decision making at governor body level. He observed that recently the quality of information had not been as robust as it should be, and was concerned that rubber stamping was happening. Governing body are supposed to challenge the decision of the head.
20.The process was designed to maintain the status quo and the panel had very limited scope to support the parent.
21.The weight of evidence was usually poor from the parent, and was often founded on an emotional argument. In contrast, schools were able to present a portfolio, with paperwork evidencing every relevant event throughout the pupil’s career.
22.Some groups of parents were better able to articulate their argument and navigate the process. Others are less able to and can become frustrated and confrontational, even though their argument is rational.
23.These parents would benefit from independent support to facilitate their engagement with the process.
Visits to schools
24.The quality of record keeping and pupil information was improving with technology. Schools were able to pull up pupil files with well documented strong evidence and visible patterns.
25.The information pack that goes to parents when a pupil is excluded does signpost to voluntary organisations that can support families through the process.
26.Pupil Premium was often being used to employ additional behaviour support such as counsellors, learning support mentors etc
27.There was a divergence of practice and opinion within schools over the use of internal exclusion rooms. Some schools had them and valued them, others saw them as divisive and counter-productive.
28.All of the schools reported increasing levels child poverty and overly high thresholds within CAMHS and Children’s Social Care.
29.Schools are just one part of the network of early help but feel they are required to take on the lion’s share of dealing with societal problems without sufficient resource to do so.
30.Thresholds for Children’s Social Care intervention are not aligned with schools’ expectations or requirements.
31.Between 4-6pm is a time of increased risk for young people. After school provision and youth activities should be considered as part of the review when looking at early help and intervention.
32.Children feel Lewisham schools are positive, safe places to be.
33.Schools have a delicate balance to strike between the needs of the indvidual and those of the school community when it comes to behaviour such as carrying a weapon in school.
University of Birmingham CRRE report
34.Disproportionality is an issue in Lewisham as it is nationally, particularly as regards BME residents being over-represented in the criminal justice system, mental health, and underachievement in school.
35.Lewisham has the largest Black Caribbean child population outside of Birmingham. Lewisham receives no targeted funding for tackling school exclusions.
36.Unconscious bias training has been introduced for head teachers, and Lewisham schools employ a high percentage of Black Caribbean secondary school teachers.
37.Schools do not have access to any funding stream for involving voluntary organisations in supporting pupils to stay in school. Schools are able to commission mentoring from their budget but school budgets are increasingly being squeezed.
4.4 The Chair suggested that the role of outside bodies might be a possible area for recommendation.
4.5 The Chair postponed the consideration of the evidence of the Service Manager – Inclusion, Participation and Access until the meeting on 13 March.
4.6 It was RESOLVED that the report be noted.