Agenda item

Scrutiny Review of Narrowing the Gap in Educational Attainment

To consider the scope for this appreciative inquiry scrutiny.


Consideration was given to the brief and scope for the Scrutiny Review of Narrowing the Gap in Educational Attainment. Following the ‘appreciative inquiry’ methodology, the overall aim of the project would be to work collaboratively with schools and partners to explore what good practice already exists and what could still be done to support families, establish innovative ways of working, and make better use of resources through a renewed approach.

Focusing on the specific factors of a) attendance, and b) community outreach and connected Children’s Services, the review would seek to:

• Improve identification of disadvantaged, CIOC and SEN pupils.

• Better understand the issues around disadvantaged, CIOC and SEN pupils’ educational outcomes.

• Identify what more can be done locally to tackle these issues.

• Assess how well current policies, services and interventions address the issues and identify potential gaps.

• Identify the changes needed to policies, services and interventions based on best practice, national recommendations, evidence base and data.

• Establish what more should be done to provide support in early years, in particular to new mothers / families.

• Review the effectiveness of the strategic and local approaches in place to tackle lower disadvantaged, CIOC and SEND outcomes.

• Identify how the Council can, together with its partners, collectively respond to tackle the issues identified.

For both these specific factors, potential stakeholders and proposed ways in which to engage with the identified organisations / groups / individuals were outlined – this involved a mix of workshops and visits to established entities such as family hubs, foodbanks / baby banks, and youth clubs.

To provide additional context, an ‘Early Help Transformation & Improvement Programme: Project Initiation Document (Brief & scope of the work)’ paper was tabled for Members’ information. One of the aims within this piece of work was to narrow the gap of educational attainment, improve school attendance and reduce school-based exclusion.

Officers acknowledged that the appreciative inquiry approach was not wildly different to how reviews had been conducted in the past and that, whilst some of the findings would perhaps be uncomfortable, the Committee needed to hear and understand the existing situation. Schools had a good working knowledge of their pupils, but they could not be expected to do everything around the factors influencing attainment – as such, there was a desire to work in partnership with schools and help them wherever possible. Indeed, support from the community was a vastly underused resource, part of which was already reaching out to help.

Linked to the child poverty update received earlier in this meeting, Members again raised the issue of breakfast clubs within schools. Officers stated that, in the future, every school would be obliged to provide wraparound care (or signpost to somewhere providing before and / or after-school support), though current provision within the Borough was very positive.

Members queried if exclusion / isolation rates were being monitored and heard that the SBC Early Help Team worked with schools to prevent / minimise such issues (though it could not dictate to them). In related matters, officers noted that special education needs and disability (SEND) considerations would also be involved as part of the review, though off-rolling (the practice of removing disadvantaged and struggling pupils from the school roll before they took their final exams so their poor results were not included in the school statistics) was not within scope, even though this did need to be challenged.

With reference to the suggested stakeholder list, the Committee proposed the addition of Thirteen Housing Group since they were likely involved with a proportion of people who may be associated with this scrutiny topic. In having responsibilities as a social landlord, Thirteen had a resilience team and were also currently tackling anti-social behaviour (ASB) in Thornaby which had been well-received.

The Committee was informed that dates for subsequent evidence-gathering sessions would be organised and circulated in due course. In the meantime, a forthcoming session in Manchester on 5 December 2023 regarding disadvantage was highlighted, something which Members had the opportunity to access if interested.

AGREED that the scope for the Narrowing the Gap in Educational Attainment review be approved.