Agenda and minutes

Education and Children's Services Scrutiny Board (2) - Thursday, 9th December, 2021 10.30 am

Venue: Council Chamber - Council House. View directions

Contact: Michelle Rose  Tel: 024 7697 2645 Email:

No. Item


Declarations of Interests


There were no disclosable interests.


The Board noted that Councillor Abbott had submitted her apologies in light of her interest in matters to be considered at meeting.


Minutes pdf icon PDF 385 KB

a)  To agree the minutes of the meeting held on 21st October, 2021

b)  Matters Arising


The Minutes of the meeting held on 21st October 2021 were agreed and signed as a true record.


Voice of the Child pdf icon PDF 947 KB

Briefing Note of the Director of Children’s Services


The Scrutiny Board considered a briefing note of the Director of Children’s Services which detailed different methods used to identify the voice of the child, especially through the use of technology when engaging with specific groups of children and young people.


Coventry Children’s Services use various methods to support children and young people in sharing their wishes, feelings and aspirations.  Methods included, during direct work, group activities, surveys, focus groups and technology.  The focus at this meeting was on technology and details of other methods were appended to the briefing note.


The Board received a presentation on the ‘Mind of My Own’ app designed and co-produced with children and young people, to support them in sharing their views, concerns and thoughts about their lives.  The app had been successfully used in Coventry since 2019.  Some of the benefits of using Mind of My Own had been:

a)  Children and young people on the autistic spectrum had shared more via the app than previously with their worker.

b)  During Covid-19 lockdowns, it was an effective tool for young people to keep in touch with their worker.

c)  Young people had used the app to tell their worker something that was difficult to say in person.

d)  Staff had benefitted from being able to upload to case files young people’s views in their own words.

e)  Children, young people and staff had all benefitted from sharing good news rather than focusing on issues all the time.


Coventry had been partnering with Social Finance for the past three years as a pilot authority in the development of ‘Leaving Well’.  Leaving Well was a pioneering, new digital approach to leaving care services, which was centred around the Leaving Well Digital Tool.  The new style pathway plan had been successful in ensuring all pathway plans were completed and reviewed via Leaving Well.  This had several advantages detailed in the report.


Various methods were employed to ensure children and young people living with special educational needs and disabilities voices could be heard including Widgets and Makaton, (the use of symbols, signs, and speech to replace written words).  Screen sharing Apps for sharing a white board screen in the classroom with a young person on a laptop or tablet.  Screen reading technology including touch typing programmes.  Students use phones and tablets to take images and zoom in.  There were also specific apps, such as, ‘Seeing AI’ which was a talking camera for the blind to identify images or read writing.  Hardware used included, electronic Braillers. The use of MS Teams had also had a positive impact on the number of young people attending annual reviews and expressing their opinions.  It was thought that online was a less intimidating environment than being in a room with a range of professionals.


Another method using technology was ‘Kooth’ a safe, free and confidential way for young people to access emotional wellbeing and early intervention mental health support, it was actively promoted by Coventry Children’s Services.  The service  ...  view the full minutes text for item 20.


Free School Meals Holiday Activities Fund Update pdf icon PDF 444 KB

Briefing Note of the Director of Education and Skills


Further to Minute 10/21 the Scrutiny Board considered a briefing note of the Director of Education & Skills which updated Members on the previous report regarding free school meals (FSM) and the Holiday and Activities Fund (HAF).


FSM numbers in the city have increased from 11,683 (21.6% of pupil population) at the start of the pandemic to 12,683 (23.4% of pupil population) in January 2021 and 13,272 (24.3% of pupil population) currently.  This compared with 20.8% of pupils nationally.  By the end of April 2020 100% of eligible children were recorded as accessing free school meals (FSMs), and with the help of schools during the first lockdown, food vouchers/parcels for benefits eligible FSM children were delivered (including holiday periods).


The briefing note detailed the changes to the funding during the pandemic including various guidance, schemes and amounts over the last 2 years.  Recently Coventry had been indicatively allocated £3.2M by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) via a new grant, the Household Support Fund (HSF) which operated from the 6th October to 31st March 2022 (6 months).  This was the same level of funding as was provided to cover the 10 month period of the Covid winter grant Scheme (WGS) and Covid local grant schemes (LGS) in place between December 20 and September 2021.  It was likely that the increase in funding was due to consideration of the recent reduction to Universal Credit and the significant price inflation currently affecting the energy market.  No further funding had been announced for beyond 31st March 2022.  By this point eligible pupils would have received food parcels / vouchers in holiday periods for almost 2 years.


Alongside FSM, the Holiday Activities and Food Pilot Programme was extended nationwide for children 5-16 during Easter, Summer and Christmas of 2021.  Combining enriching activities with a hot or cold meal, nutrition awareness and signposting.  The Programme would reach approximately a quarter of eligible children and as the other grant schemes remained in place eligible pupils would have had access to this as well as parcels / vouchers.  The briefing note detailed the numbers attending and examples of support they received.  In the spending review further funding was announced for the holiday activities and food programme over the next 3 years at £200M per annum.  The national level was at roughly the same amount as the current year.


The Coventry Food Network had been working to develop a city-wide Sustainable Food Strategy which focused on the links between the long-term sustainable prevention of food poverty, the promotion of public health and the reduction of growing health inequalities.  They were applying for charitable status.


Following a successful 2-years funding bid to Feeding Britain, Coventry Independent Advice Service were supporting each social supermarket, to offer residents a range of advice and support.  The aim was to help residents address and resolve underlying issues that made them vulnerable to hunger or food insecurity; to increase household income or reduce expenditure, thereby contributing to greater financial resilience; reduce their reliance on  ...  view the full minutes text for item 21.


School Readiness - Impact of Covid-19 pdf icon PDF 349 KB

Briefing Note of the Director of Education and Skills


The Board considered a briefing note of the Director of Education & Skills regarding the impact that Covid has had on school readiness and what services were doing to support and improve school readiness.


The report noted that in England a child’s progress was reviewed between the age of 2 and 3 by an early year’s practitioner, or health visitor and again by their class teacher at the end of the school year in which they turn 5 (reception).  The teacher used their judgement to assess a child’s attainment against the national checklist of ‘Good Level of Development (GLD)’ Framework for the early years foundation stage.  This was the key national indicator of whether a child was ‘ready for school’, this was a measure of attainment, not progress.


It wasn’t possible to claim a full understanding of the impact that Covid has had on school readiness.  The government temporarily disapplied and modified certain elements of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) statutory framework so no profile data was available for July 2020 or 2021.  Children born immediately before or during the pandemic had not yet started school, so any impact on their expected level of development was not yet known.


It was recognised that high quality early years education combined with a supportive home learning environment were known precursors to later educational success.  Children would have had varying pre-school experience.  For those attending early years settings, access may have been disrupted and it was probable that the level of uptake of early years provision had been detrimentally impacted by Covid concerns and parental demand because more parents had been at home.


Prior to the Covid 19 pandemic, school readiness was an area of focus in Coventry.  The data taken from 2019 indicated that overall, 69% of Coventry children were ‘school ready’ compared to a national average of 71%.  However, the breakdown for children identified as disadvantaged fell to 55% compared to a national average of 56.6%.


The report detailed studies investigating the impact of Covid-19 on family life and early childhood development and work with teachers in schools where children started reception in September 2020.  Feedback from Coventry Schools and Early Years Providers in Coventry supported these findings including, concerns that the children entering the EYFS exhibited poorer social skills and other indicators of GLD were lower such as:


  They were often more comfortable in learning on their own or with a very small number of other children.

  Unable to share

  Some children were overwhelmed by a busy classroom, preferring quieter, more solitary activities

  More children seeking adult attention and some evidence of building unhealthy attachments with adults

  Language delay and confidence in communication

  Children enjoying sharing books with adults

  Gross and fine motor skills were less well developed, and balance and co-ordination were below levels expected

  Overall tiredness within the day and across the week – whilst this had always been a factor it was now more pronounced

  Unable to sustain  ...  view the full minutes text for item 22.


Work Programme pdf icon PDF 271 KB

Briefing Note of the Scrutiny Co-ordinator


The Scrutiny Board considered their Work Programme and noted the addition of the following items for consideration in January 2022

  Safeguarding Board Annual Report

  Family Health and Lifestyles Service


RESOLVED that the work programme be updated


Any Other Business

Any other items of business which the Chair decides to take as matters of urgency because of the special circumstances involved.


There were no other items of urgent public business.