Weekly political news round up – 4th April 2014

April 4, 2014 in News by Whitehouse

Around the sector

The National Children’s Bureau has published a report showcasing how innovations by primary and first access health care teams around England have improved children’s access to and experience of healthcare services. Though none of the projects were continence based, they show good evidence of how pioneering projects by local health care teams can make life easier for children with health needs.

The Scottish Government has announced that Sir Harry Burns has stepped down as Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer, being replaced temporarily by Dr Aileen Keel until a successor is found. Scotland’s new Chief Medical Officer will be tasked with helping shape the direction of Scotland’s future health priorities. Sir Harry had previously focused his work on the issue of health inequalities.

Children and Young People Now has reported that Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt has confirmed at a speech to the NSPCC conference that Labour will be developing an overarching strategy for children with a “sharp focus on educational attainment and cognitive outcomes”.  He stated that Labour would be unlikely to invest additional money into children’s services, adding that “we have to think smarter about what we do with precious resources”.

Ofsted publishes first annual report into early years education

Ofsted has launched its first report on early years education provision. The report reiterates the importance of better baseline assessment for pupils in reception to use as a method to assess pupil progress and compare attainment among peers at a young age, recommending that this data should include information about the early years provider for Ofsted to use that data to make an assessment of their performance. The report also criticises the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (p.13) by saying it does not produce enough of this data for inspectors to use, although it still recognises the profile as a key check that is used to monitor child development (p.14).

The annual report shows the continuing gap between outcomes for children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those from more affluent backgrounds, even before the age of five. The report found that only a third of children from low income backgrounds reach what is considered a good level of development at the early-years stage. Interestingly, the report relies on evidence from the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile – which the Government is making non-statutory – to show that children from low income backgrounds have fewer skills in areas such as learning, particularly in language and communication, than their more affluent peers.

The report also concluded that inspection reports very often highlight shared delivery of services and relationships with front-line health staff such as midwives, health visitors and speech and language therapists as significant strengths. The report also provides insight into the complexity of the sector (p.18), showing the number of providers in different forms from children’s centres to nurseries, 0-4 school provision to childminders.

The report makes a series of recommendations including:

  • There should be an agreement nationally on a small number of words for different types of early years provision that would be consistently used
  • The Government should introduce a nationally comparable and standardised baseline assessment at the start of Reception, with external marking for both the baseline and Key Stage 1 assessments
  • Schools should be given greater flexibility to support children in their early years and be incentivised to do so – including by removing the requirement for separate registration, regulation and inspection for this younger age group and more recognition of school leaders who voluntarily make themselves accountable for raising attainment on entry through engagement with the local early years sector
  • The new pupil premium for three and four-year-olds should be extended to two-year-olds at the earliest opportunity
  • Local councils that do not have enough high quality provision should consider incentives for schools to expand their provision either on-site or in linked provision

In response to the study, a Department for Education spokesman said high-quality school nurseries enabled children who are behind to catch up with their peers before starting school. The spokesman added: “we have been clear that we want to ensure more flexible, affordable and high quality provision is available for parents. We have already made great strides in early year’s provision with the introduction of the new early year’s pupil premium, strengthened early-years qualifications and encouraging schools to open from 8am to 6pm.”

Ofsted has also published the results of a survey on how the most successful early years providers ensure disadvantaged and vulnerable children are better prepared to start school. This report can be seen as a document that further makes this case as an annex of evidence for the Annual Report to draw many of its conclusions from, especially to make the argument to introduce baseline testing.

Department of Health publishes guidance to local commissioners and providers on maximising contribution of school nurses

The Department of Health has published guidance for local commissioners and providers on maximising the contribution of school nursing teams to the public health of school-aged children (5 to 19). The guidance sets innovative ways that school nursing services can be commissioned and developed to meet local need to ensure effective, seamless delivery of public health for school-aged children and young people. The theme of the guidance is that although school nurses are a strong asset, they alone cannot be left to ensure public health needs are met.

The guidance states that commissioners will need a systemic, reliable and robust process to access population health needs that provides a basis for designing and reviewing services, together with workforce plans to ensure an appropriately skilled workforce can deliver public health locally. It also stated that services should be developed to meet an individual need and tailored to ensure individuals are supported.

Although the guidance highlights that school nursing teams lead and contribute to improving outcomes using their autonomy, clinical skills and professional judgement, it stresses that they cannot be held solely responsible and cannot deliver the 5-19 Healthy Child Programme agenda in isolation. It adds that school nursing teams will need to work with a number of partners, including health and social care teams, teachers and youth workers to delivery evidence based public health interventions.

With regards to continence, the guidance states that school nursing services must contribute to a reduction in the number of children with continence problems by:

  • identifying need on school entry
  • Sign posting and referral to appropriate providers commissioned by CCGs

Department for Education publishes evaluation on SEN Pathfinder programme

The Department for Education has published the latest evaluation of the SEN and Disability Pathfinder programme. This evaluation explores the readiness for reform and effectiveness of the Pathfinder Champions, who have been appointed to help non-pathfinder areas prepare for the SEN reforms. Generally the evaluation found that the pathfinders have continued to make progress between March and September 2014. Pathfinders had advanced in addressing issues around organisational engagement and cultural change, but were less advanced around setting up the infrastructure.

The study found that pathfinder areas were more advanced in their developments relative to non-pathfinder areas, and had made progress across the majority of the elements of the reforms between February and October 2013. For example, half the non-pathfinder areas that responded to a series of surveys at the end of 2013 had implemented between none and three of the nine main elements of the reforms. By comparison, the research showed 80% of the 20 pathfinder areas had developed, or were developing, between seven and nine of the reform elements.

It was also noted that progress against most of the reform elements was further advanced within SEN than in social care and particularly health. It was considered that this progress deficit was partly due to a lack of capacity to engage or clarity on how to contribute on the part of practitioners. It was found that good progress had been made engaging and involving families. The majority of areas had fully implemented or already established awareness-raising of the pathfinder with families (28 of 31 areas) and recruited families to participate in the pathfinder (26 of 31 areas). Implementation of peer support was more mixed. Sixteen areas had fully implemented peer support for parent carers, or already had existing structures in place. Peer support for children and young people was less prevalent still, and had been fully implemented by three of the 31 areas.

It was concluded that a good level of progress had been made in developing certain aspects of the reforms, including the Education, Health and Care (EHC) coordinated assessment and planning pathway, EHC plan templates, the local offer, and governance of the coordinated assessment and EHC plans. However, the following areas were marked as remaining at an earlier developmental stage: eligibility criteria for the EHC plan; joint commissioning arrangements between the local authority and partner Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs); joint resourcing arrangements; personal budgets – particularly in relation to SEN and health; and workforce development. Concern has been expressed at the slow progress in non-pathfinder sites and it was recommended that they should be closely monitored over the next few months and additional support offered for areas that need it.