Impact of COVID-19 on children's services in Manchester, including schools, settings and the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service
- Meeting of Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee, Wednesday, 26th May, 2021 2.00 pm (Item 19.)
Report of the Deputy Director of Children’s Services
This report details the impact and consequence management of COVID-19 across the Children’s and Education Directorate, with a particular focus on the delivery arrangements and performance of children’s services.
The Committee received a report of the Deputy Director of Children’s Services which detailed the impact and consequence management of COVID-19 across the Children’s and Education Directorate. The report had a particular focus on the delivery arrangements and performance of children’s services. Acknowledging the requirement to view the support to children as a partnership endeavour, the report also provided an update on schools and CAMHS’s ongoing response to the pandemic.
Officers referred to the main points and themes within the report, which included:
· Schools update, including school attendance and Ofsted monitoring visits;
· Early Years update;
· Children’s Services, including working practices during the pandemic, contacts with Children’s Services, performance management and quality assurance;
· Early Help; and
· Managing the impact of COVID-19 on well-being and mental health.
Some of the key points and themes that arose from the Committee’s discussions were:
- That individual schools were adopting different practices in response to the current situation;
- Reasons for the variations in school attendance levels;
- Concern that lockdown and learning at home had widened the gap between children from more and less advantaged backgrounds;
- The impact of the pandemic on babies’ development; and
- How the Council would support schools if the Indian Variant spread within the city.
The Director of Education informed the Committee that all schools had initially completed risk assessments for COVID-19 which had been reviewed by the Council’s Health and Safety Team. She advised that, despite recent changes in national guidelines, the Council was still strongly advising schools to keep the measures from their risk assessments in place, although they did not have any powers to enforce this. In response to a Member’s question, she outlined some of the support being offered to Early Years settings and through additional activities to assist children with reaching developmental milestones, noting the impact that the pandemic would have had on the development of many young children, not only those who would have otherwise been identified as having Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND). In response to another question, she advised that the strategy for supporting pupils with SEND had remained the same, although there had been a particular focus on school attendance during the pandemic.
The Deputy Director of Children’s Services acknowledged the challenges facing new parents during the pandemic, highlighting the information in the report about some of the difficulties they were experiencing. He advised of the importance of providing socialisation opportunities for children and opening Early Years settings, noting that the city’s figures were good for this. He informed Members of a new evidence-based approach to supporting vulnerable people who were new parents or soon to become parents, recognising that having been isolated from support services during the pandemic would have added to their vulnerabilities.
The Executive Member for Children and Schools informed the Committee that, despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, the Council remained ambitious for the city’s children. He informed Members about plans for a “Year of the Child” in 2022 and proposed that the Committee receive a report about this at a future meeting.
The Director of Education advised the Committee that school attendance was continuing to improve and was at about 94%. A Member commented that schools having different school holiday dates around Easter would have impacted on attendance levels. The Director of Education advised the Committee that the Council set schools holiday dates based on a set of principles agreed across Greater Manchester but that not all Greater Manchester councils were working to these principles and that this would be looked at again. She also reported that academies and Roman Catholic schools within Manchester did not have to follow the dates set down by the Council. She acknowledged the impact that the pandemic would have had on children’s education, noting that pupils in Manchester had been particularly affected due to high infection rates in the city.
In response to a question from the Chair, the Director of Education reported that Ofsted were visiting schools to undertake monitoring visits, focusing on schools which were currently judged as Inadequate or Requires Improvement but would not be carrying out full inspections with new judgements until the autumn term.
The Chair praised the excellent work being carried out through Early Help and Sure Start and suggested that the police be invited to a future meeting, noting the references in the report to domestic abuse.
The Director of Education assured Members that there were already structures in place to support schools in the event of an outbreak of the Indian Variant within the city, due to the situation Manchester had been in in autumn 2020, when infection rates were high. She outlined how different services worked together, the processes in place and the support provided to schools.
To continue to receive regular update reports.