Agenda item


An opportunity to question Councillor Zena Brabazon, the Cabinet Member for Children, Education and Families, on developments within her portfolio.


Councillor Zena Brabazon, the Cabinet Member for Early Years, Children and Families, reported on recent developments within her portfolio.  The key priority for the administration in the coming year would be early years.  Councillor Peray Ahmet, the new Leader of the Council, had made this clear and this had been well received by the community.  Very young children had been severely affected by the lockdown and the long term implications could be profound.   A review was taking place of early years provision with a view to strengthening it. Safeguarding and children’s social care were important additional priorities.  In addition, there was a lot to be done in respect of special educational needs (SEN).  Of particular note was the £17 million overspend in the Delegated Schools Budget arising from the high needs block and this needed to be addressed. 


School place planning was another important matter.  There was currently no sign that birth rates were likely to rise and schools were therefore continuing to respond to the reduced demand for places.  She paid tribute to the work that had been undertaken by the Council’s Education and Public Health departments for the work that they had undertaken since March 2020 to assist schools in reopening and keeping them safe. Schools had effectively been open continuously since March 2020 and had risen very well to the challenges that they had been faced with.  She had written to schools and governors to thank them for all their work.


In answer to a question, she reported that Amaze had been commissioned to review parental involvement in special educational needs and the development of a new parents forum.  Their review had 59 recommendations and these were being implemented.  The contract for developing the new parents forum had been awarded to the Bridge Renewal Trust and it was hoped that the new arrangements would be operational from September 2021.  The Cabinet Member felt that it was important to establish the right culture, where parents were listened to and difficult things could be said without rancour.  It was noted that the procurement process for the parents forum had been undertaken with input from parents. The first project for the new arrangements would to review the local offer.


In answer to another question, the Cabinet Member stated that the Bridge Renewal Trust was an established local organisation with a wide range of contacts and a good reputation.  They were also being supported by an organisation called Contact, who would ensure that they learnt from best practice elsewhere. 


The Panel noted that some schools were in the borough were struggling to claim for monies owed to them in respect of Education Health and Care plans for children living in neighbouring boroughs.  Jackie DiFolco, Assistant Director for Early Help and Prevention, reported that there were two ways in which the Council could assist schools who were experiencing difficulties with this.  Firstly, a temporary cash flow could be agreed so that schools were able to continue with their normal activities.  Secondly, the local authority that owed the money could be contacted and asked the reason for the delay in paying the school.  Schools should be aware of the support that was available but could be reminded if need be. 


Ms Keever reported that boroughs were not paying what they owed to schools in some cases.  As a Chair of Governors, she had regularly been required to intervene to ensure payment.  She felt that some boroughs were deliberately delaying payment till after the end of the financial year so that they could claim that they were no longer able to pay.  Chasing up money that was owed was very time consuming for schools and the amounts involved could be substantial.  They needed more support in dealing with this and the issue needed to be addressed strategically, with better communication between different boroughs.  The Cabinet Member thanked her for raising the issue and stated that consideration would be given to how it could be addressed.


Ann Graham, the Director of Children’s Services, stated that there was now additional capacity for her service to assist schools.  They needed to know if problems were being experienced by them in obtaining payment from other boroughs so that they could escalate if necessary.  Delaying tactics on the part of boroughs should not result in schools not being paid.  The Assistant Directors for Early Help and Prevention and for Schools and Learning would be asked to address the issue.


In response to a question regarding the provision of independent advice and support to Chairs of school governors, the Cabinet Member stated that support to school governing bodies was the responsibility of Haringey Education Partnership (HEP). The provision of independent advice to Chairs was an interesting idea though.  The need to have school governors who were able to support, challenge and advocate for their school was an important priority.  It was noted that Chairs of Governors were not always receiving necessary information and agreed that the Assistant Director for Schools and Learning would take up this issue.


Panel Members welcomed the fact that early years was to become the current administration’s top priority.  However, it was felt that all children had been negatively affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns and it was therefore necessary to prioritise the needs of them all.  The Cabinet Member stated that she welcomed being challenged on this issue and the Council was responding to it.  An extensive summer programme of activities had been arranged, which was the biggest one ever planned by the Council.   Included within this were the Big Summer and the Holiday Activities and Food programmes.  The latter provided free activities and a meal to children who were entitled to free school meals.  The intention was to try and reach as many children as possible and to respond to the challenges that they had all faced in the last 18 months.   The Director of Children’s Services acknowledged that all children needed to be cared for as all had been affected.  It  was not fully clear what the long term impact would be.  She felt that the holiday programme was one way to address the effects of what had happened. 


In answer to another question, the Cabinet Member stated that change could often take a long time to implement.  There had been a particular need to change the Council’s approach to Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) and this was now proceeding with the adoption of a new strategy.  Children’s social care was a major priority but there was a need to focus on other issues as well.  SEND had close links to Early Years and earlier intervention could lead to better outcomes.  There was a huge focus on school attainment and particularly that of BAME young people.  This was being addressed in partnership with HEP and schools.   There was a focus on change and she wished to nurture a culture within children and young people’s services which was open to new ideas.


The Panel noted that support to refugee and asylum seeker children was included within the Panel’s terms of reference.  Ms Graham reported that a lot of work was undertaken by her service to support such children, especially by the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) team.  In respect of unaccompanied minors, the pattern for arrivals had changed recently with children arriving by boat rather than in vehicles.  A new system for providing for their care was due to go live shortly.  It was noted that a review had been undertaken by the Panel in 2017/18 on support to children from refugee families and agreed that a further update on progress with the implementation of the recommendations be provided to a future meeting.


In answer to a question, Ms Graham reported that the Annual Report on children’s social care was currently being drafted and would be available in October.  This would include detail on progress and future challenges.  In answer to another question, the Cabinet Member reported that discussions were beginning regarding the budget for next year.  Partners would be consulted as part of this process, including health.  They had a shared interest in achieving good outcomes and additional financial contributions in recognition of this would be welcome.




1.    That the issue of delayed payments to schools in respect of EHC plans be referred to the Assistant Directors for Early Help and Prevention and for Schools and Learning to address and to raise with relevant boroughs; and


2.    That an update on support to children from refugee and asylum seeker families and further progress on the scrutiny review regarding this be submitted to a future meeting of the Panel.