Agenda item

Update on Schools and Education, including the Action Plan for Raising Achievement of Boys of Black Caribbean Heritage

To update the Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee on schools and education in Brent, and the actions taken to raise the achievement of British boys of Black Caribbean heritage.


Councillor Tom Stephens (Lead Member for Schools, Employment and Skills) introduced the report which presented the overall school standards and achievement and the action plan for raising the achievement of boys of Black Caribbean heritage. He drew the Committee’s attention to paragraph 3.16 of the report which noted there were no performance data for schools for the 2019-20 academic year following the Department for Education announcement that the summer 2020 primary key stage statutory assessments and GCSE, A Level and Level 3 vocational examinations would be cancelled. The background paper provided the 2018-19 annual school standards and achievement report presented to the Committee in March 2020. Councillor Stephens felt that overall the information showed impressive figures on standards and achievement, and Brent had met all but one of 3 Borough targets. Brent had missed 1 target by 1 percentage point regarding the achievement of boys of Black Caribbean heritage, and met the targets for more than 95% of Brent schools being judged outstanding and reducing the attainment gap.


The Chair thanked Councillor Stephens for his introduction and invited members to ask questions, with the following issues raised:


In response to queries regarding what impact the pandemic had on the achievement of boys of Black Caribbean heritage and what additional support those boys were being given to support their optimal achievement, Gail Tolley (Strategic Director Children and Young People, Brent Council) highlighted that there was no specific evidence as yet to show whether the pandemic had impacted the attainment outcomes for those young people as there were no public examinations during the year. Councillor Stephens added that there was nationally an anticipated impact on educational inequality as a result of the pandemic, but there was no current evidence to suggest whether that impact had been more severe for certain groups.


The Chair invited Enid Lewis (Head of Park Lane Primary School) to share how her school had been supporting the achievement of pupils. Enid Lewis advised that Park Lane Primary School had done a lot of work supporting all disadvantaged children, including where relevant for pupils of Black Caribbean heritage, working with an action research methodology. A lot of additional support had been put in place, including ensuring each pupil had access to relevant technology, and catch-up support was being put in place to narrow any gaps.


The Committee highlighted some national concerns that pupils of Black Caribbean heritage may not have the necessary equipment to participate in home schooling and had not been able to engage with online learning during the pandemic, and queried whether that was the case in Brent. Councillor Stephens agreed that the lack of digital access was part of wider socioeconomic circumstances which could impact negatively on children’s education such as overcrowded households meaning some pupils did not have the capacity to sit through a whole series of lessons and learn in a quiet space. He advised that the previous report did highlight the work done by the Council to support vulnerable pupils with their learning and from April 2020, the DfE began to issue digital devices (laptops, tablets and 4G wireless routers) to local authorities to distribute to schools. In terms of more targeted support for boys of Black Caribbean heritage, Councillor Stephens highlighted the importance of Black Caribbean Achievement Champions in schools.


The Committee heard that the Black Caribbean Achievement Champions referenced in the report had been funded by Brent Council through the Schools Forum and these champions were school staff determined by the schools themselves. Gail Tolley highlighted that very often the role was not assigned to someone in senior leadership teams but that champions held different roles across Brent schools, so that raising the achievement of boys of Black Caribbean heritage was seen as a whole school responsibility. Enid Lewis informed the Committee that the role was to liaise with senior leaders, parents, and other stakeholders to ensure the achievement of Black Caribbean boys was on all agendas and to look at the quality of education boys of Black Caribbean heritage were receiving.


The Committee asked whether the voice of the parents of Black Caribbean boys had been considered in the report. Gail Tolley explained that as part of the funding for the project to increase the achievement of boys of Black Caribbean heritage parents had been working with the Brent Schools Partnership to design and set up a portal driven by parents of boys of Black Caribbean heritage. John Galligan (Head of Setting and School Effectiveness, Brent Council) informed the Committee that the portal had gone live and all parents had been given passwords, with the Champions working closely with parents to enable them to get the best out of the portal. He added that parents had welcomed the additional meetings specifically focused on their children and improving their children’s outcomes, and drew the Committee’s attention to section 3.43 which detailed feedback received.


The Committee wanted assurance that partnership working was effective to ensure every boy of Black Caribbean heritage was achieving in all educational settings at all key stages. Councillor Stephens confirmed that this work was being done through the Brent Schools Partnership. Gail Tolley (Strategic Director Children and Young People, Brent Council) added that the partnership approach for this work was driven through the Strategic School Effectiveness Board, which she chaired and which included representative primary, secondary and special school headteachers, governors and the Brent School Partnership. She advised that partnership working with schools continued to be highly effective, and that through the pandemic period that she had convened a regular webcast meeting with high levels of engagement and attendance from Brent headteachers to keep that partnership working strong. In addition, schools had been supported to organise into local clusters and were working well together. Georgina Nutton (Head of Preston Park Primary School) felt that throughout the pandemic, partnership working had strengthened and schools had been required to innovate for how they would engage with each other. She advised that Gail Tolley had engaged well with them and had brought people together and communicated information effectively, and noted the partnership with the Family Front Door and social work teams had been important to ensure families were kept safe during the pandemic. She also noted that all schools were engaging with the work to raise the achievements of boys of Black Caribbean heritage and it was always high on the agenda at meetings such as the cluster group meetings. Her school was looking at how they could engage the wider community with the project such as through artists, local galleries and authors.


The Committee queried how the percentage of disadvantaged pupils in Brent was broken down in section 3.6 of the report. Gail Tolley advised that the percentage was the percentage of pupils eligible for pupil premium funding in schools, and that schools would know what proportion of those pupils were of Black Caribbean heritage, which would have been part of the data that went into the audit.


In relation to Key Stages, the Committee asked how Key Stage 1 (KS1) was performing in relation to reading as there appeared to be issues at that stage. John Galligan advised that KS1 was the only key stage that was completely teacher assessed and there was an action plan to look at the moderation of that Key Stage and understand potential factors; including whether teacher unconscious bias played any contributory part. The Local Authority had a statutory responsibility to moderate and were going to use the summer moderation of KS1 as the opportunity to look into why some groups might not be doing as well, however there had been no statutory assessment that year for them to look at so schools were looking at this independently. John Galligan added that the Brent Schools Partnership had led in delivering unconscious bias training and a number of schools had signed up to that training.


Drawing the item to a close, the Chair invited representatives from Brent Youth Parliament to address the Committee. The representatives focussed on digital poverty and what consideration Brent Council had given to support people locally affected by digital poverty who might not have been able to engage in lessons and online services as effectively as other young people. Councillor Stephens agreed that digital provision was an issue and the Children and Young People’s department were in discussion with schools about digital provision in their areas. There was government funding available to address digital poverty but it was not sufficient to meet the need.


As no further questions were raised, the Chair thanked education colleagues for their contributions and led a round of applause in thanks to education and settings based staff.



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