Agenda item

Response to Covid-19


Mike Stoneman presented the report and highlighted the support provided since schools re-opened on 8 March, including the Studybugs initiative which is providing live attendance data. He noted that vouchers for free school meals pupils (provided by EdenRed) would be available for the whole of the summer holidays, including for eligible early years pupils.


Sarah Christopher, PEP and School Inclusion Manager, gave an update on anti-racism work and mental health support. Although there is no requirement for schools to report prejudice-based incidents, headteachers are asked to provide information so that officers can track and monitor and provide appropriate education and training. Most incidents are race related with a few related to gender or sexual orientation. Sarah reported that children did some fabulous work for the UN Anti-Racism Day on 20 March, including a display of art work at Canoe Lake. A working group is co-producing work on nuanced conversations (those where even if there is not a racist intent it impacts the recipient). It is matter of educating people who make such remarks that they are not appropriate. One teacher has done good work on challenging stereotypes from a young age. Some schools have requested whole staff training which is linked to other work such as the Portsmouth Black History project.


It is unlikely other areas have the full mental health support that Portsmouth does. Despite delays caused by Covid relationships are being built with the Mental Health Support Teams. Co-production is taking place with parents to unpick pathways for mental health support as they can be confusing. Support can come from Kooth or the Mental Health Support Teams as well as CAMHS.


Absence due to children having to self-isolate has increased recently so remote education is still essential and will continue next year. TSAT (Thinking Schools Academy Trust) have supported schools with their digital learning offer under a contract with the council and officers have increased the number of children having access to a device and the internet. Details of the digital learning strategy were announced at the PEP summer conference on 2 July.


In response to questions from members, officers explained that


Uptake for vouchers for free school meal pupils was around 98%. Schools give parents the code to access the vouchers.


The laptops promised by the government have been received.


Anti-racism training is provided as soon as schools request it. A package around anti-racism has been compiled as a result of requests. When the guidance is launched in September schools will be encouraged to base training around it. However, training is just one aspect of changing a school's culture.


Many events like assemblies have moved online, for example, there was online assembly with an LGBT theme for primary schools, which could be shared with other schools. It is hoped to continue online training events along with face-to-face ones. Training includes dealing with scenarios when very young children repeat parents' views without being disrespectful to the parents. There is a specialist team in early help who do a lot of work and training with schools.


The CAMHS waiting list varies according to the help needed; for example, it can be long for autism but responds very quickly to young people in crisis. CAMHS can offer consultation, support and advice while waiting and families can phone for advice. Waiting lists are longer because of increased demand rather than under-resourcing. There are also problems filling staff vacancies as recruitment to CAMHS posts is an issue regionally.


With regard to monitoring the outcomes of initiatives, attainment will not be known until next year but exclusion and attendance are still monitored. Vulnerable learners are tracked and, if not in school, are supported. Portsmouth currently has better rates of school attendance than other local authorities. Officers are now working on reducing fixed-term exclusions which will impact on attainment. The Chair said "big picture" factors are complex but officers can drill down to tangible results in some interventions such as Pompey Pirates. Members thought it would be helpful to see at the next meeting a brief table showing the effectiveness of initiatives and interventions.


Mike Stoneman confirmed that data could be provided by year group on those children that have had to self-isolate due to a positive case in school. The situation has been challenging in the last few weeks and is becoming more so as the end of term approaches. Schools have provided a good offer and access to devices so it would be disappointing if children and families were not engaging with school.


RESOLVED that the Education Advisory Board note the actions that have been taken over the past sixteen months by the council and partners to respond to the pandemic and the ongoing work that is in place in order to continue to support education settings.


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