Posted on 11/09/2018

I am very pleased to be writing the second blog post relating to Scrutiny activity being undertaken within the Council, which plays an important role in acting as a critical friend to decision makers and adding value to the policy direction. I was delighted to once again be appointed as the Chair of the Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee for a second year in June 2018. Over the past year, the Committee has grown in confidence with Members working closely together in its commitment to scrutinising the Council’s provisions and plans in relation to Educational and Children’s services.

A huge success over the last 12 months was the Committee’s work to research and suggest improvements to the availability of free sanitary provision for female learners in our schools. A Working Group was set up to undertake thorough research into this vital subject for our young people, and report findings and recommendations to Full Council. The review included 800 surveys with female Secondary pupils, which also included Year 7 pupils able to comment about the sanitary provision at their former Primary Schools.

We placed great importance on the views offered by female learners from two Secondary Schools at workshops set up by the Committee, as these experiences were vital to properly understand the problems facing female pupils in our schools. The sessions brought to the fore important issues – that it was embarrassing for pupils to be seen going into a toilet, that they did not know where to go to for advice, that they would rather go home than ask for advice from staff, and that they would like to see more education into this issue for male pupils. I would again like to thank all of the young people involved for being so open and honest in their feedback – allowing us to gain a much better understanding on this hugely important topic.

After six months of work, the Committee put recommendations before Full Council in February 2018 that would improve on the current system of provision. They centred round a much more consistent and standardised approach – making it mandatory for all RCT schools which have pupils aged nine and above to provide a range of free sanitary products for female learners, which can be accessed independently within toilet blocks. The recommendation received Cross Party support and was later ratified by Cabinet. A six-month pilot started this year with a view to full-enrolment in 2019, as RCT became the first Welsh Council to introduce this measure.

The Committee’s work in both the areas of Education and Children’s Services is far reaching, and I provided a full summary of Members’ involvement in these areas during 2017/18 at the Council’s Annual General Meeting in May 2018. These areas range from monitoring education outcomes for Children Looked After, to school attendance, adoption services and accommodation for vulnerable children in RCT. I’m looking forward to continuing our work in all of these areas, and more, throughout the remainder of 2018/19.

It is also worth mentioning the Committee’s upcoming work in school attendance. Members were presented with the Annual School Attendance report for the academic year 2015-16 in September 2017 and for 2016-17 in March 2018. The Committee acknowledges Primary School attendance had maintained but Secondary attendance had declined. Over the next year, the Committee will carry out a piece of work to see how this decline can be addressed. Meanwhile, the number of exclusions based on attendance in RCT schools has increased, and the Committee will continue to support Officers to reverse this trend, while Members will also scrutinise the issuing of Fixed Penalty Notices for school attendance as part of its 2018/19 Work Programme.

Looking forward, the Cabinet Member for Children and Young People will attend our Committee meetings on a quarterly basis, enabling Members to receive relevant information relating to the portfolio, and of the potential challenges facing the service. Members will be kept updated with any policy changes which are being considered to ensure early, regular involvement of scrutiny in matters that affect our young people across the County Borough.

Posted on 11/09/2018