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Five things we learnt at children’s services committee

PUBLISHED: 16:00 10 July 2018 | UPDATED: 16:00 10 July 2018

Alderman Swindell Primary and Nursery School. Picture: Mick Howes

Alderman Swindell Primary and Nursery School. Picture: Mick Howes

Archant

Much of Tuesday’s children’s services committee debate was dominated by the proposal to close Winterton Primary, but here are a few other things we learnt.

• Special schools vision takes step forward

The committee agreed to explore how feasible plans to build four new special schools will be.

Earlier this month, the council’s children’s services team put forward a vision to see four new special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) schools built, and 170 new places created at Specialist Resource Bases (SRB), support units at mainstream schools. Demand for special school places severely outweighs supply, with many children with SEND having to stay in mainstream schools or be placed in costly placements at independent schools.

On Tuesday, the committee agreed to explore how feasible the plans would be. Penny Carpenter, committee chairman, said they needed to “grasp the nettle”. “We have got to do it for our children,” she said.

A report will now come back to the committee in November.

• Permanent exclusions have fallen year on year

Permanent exclusions are a key issue in Norfolk, with the county previously having had disproportionately high levels. Work has been ongoing at council and school level to bring the number down.

Reports from Tuesday’s meeting shows that exclusions made in the autumn term fell from 132 in 2016/17 to 103 in 2017/18. They rose slightly in the spring term - from 65 last year to 71 this year - and then fell again during summer, from 66 to 35, although the summer term is not yet over.

During the meeting, Chris Snudden, assistant director for children’s services, said exclusions were still an issue, particularly in areas such as Great Yarmouth and Norwich.

She said there was still a prevalence in certain schools - roughly 5pc of schools exclude 52pc of children - and a “lack of clarity” still existed around fixed-term exclusions.

• Children’s centre contracts will be extended by six months

The council plans to save £5m from its £10m children’s centre services budget by overhauling the system.

It was confirmed in budget setting meetings in February, but little detail has been released over what it will entail.

But meeting reports say it is a “very large and complicated” project, which has prompted the decision to extend providers’ contracts for another six months.

“This will give us the time we need to re-design services for children and families and put forward proposals which can help to reduce demand on other services, help to keep families together and lead us towards an integrated childhood and family system,” it says.

• Social worker recruitment improving

Norfolk has historically had difficulties recruiting social workers, with the council having had to rely on agency staff.

The report from this meeting says, though, that data indicates the number of employed social workers is increasing at a faster rate than other local authorities.

It also says turnover in 2017/18 has been lower than the national average.

“We remain reliant on agency workers as a key component of our workforce and although this is higher than the national picture, we are seeing a reduction in usage,” they said.

Temporary provision could be found for former school site

In a response to a public question, asking about the plans for the former Alderman Swindell site in Great Yarmouth, the council said “an existing provider” could give specialist provision “prior to the new specialist provision being opened”.

The council has previously confirmed it hopes to open a new complex needs school on the site, after Alderman Swindell Primary School closes in September.

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