Investing in children, families and education in Portsmouth

This week, Portsmouth Liberal Democrat councillors prioritised investment in education and help for families to empower people.

Suzy HortonCouncillor Suzy Horton, Cabinet Member For Children, Families & Education, shares her thoughts on her first full Children, Families and Education Budget.

Since adding ‘Children and Families’ to my ‘Education’ brief last year, it has shown me the complex interrelationships of different services within my directorate, other areas of the council and with our partner agencies in education, health, the police and the voluntary and community sector outside of the council.

This all makes for a challenging strategy and I am grateful to be part of an administration that recognises this and has invested a further £7m to the annual budget; that’s a 28% increase in the last few years to over £38m a year (and that doesn’t include money that goes to schools).

The approach we are taking in Children and Families is one of giving every opportunity to empower people to make good choices for their families and is based on a fundamental belief in people to be able to accept help, grow and change. It’s a two pronged strategy called Stronger Futures and invests in ‘Early Help’ as well as working intensely with families to try and keep them together and an amazing foster carer model called Mockingbird, for when this is not possible. This isn’t quick fix project type work and events like a pandemic obviously throw different issues into the mix and make it necessary to accommodate and respond constantly.

Nevertheless, we are optimistic that the approach is right and we want to build on all the positive points of the 2018 Ofsted by continuing to invest in our workforce by recruiting social workers who we value and who become immersed in our approach. We are soon to launch a social worker recruitment campaign mirroring our successful teacher recruitment campaign and the modest capital investment to enable mobile working is an addition to our offer.

Now to focus on the Education part of my portfolio

One of the silver linings of the pandemic is the ever-closer relationships that have been forged between the council and all schools, especially when it comes to the tracking and support for the most vulnerable, especially those with Special Educational Needs. This has added to the already embedded ‘needs led’ approach to inclusion in the city and puts us in good stead to move forward with the next stages of the Special Educational Needs and Disability strategy.

At its core, the direction is a commitment to promote inclusion and improve outcomes by providing high quality support for children to remain in mainstream settings. But we know that this is not possible or appropriate for all children and that there needs to also be high quality specialist provision – whether that is in an inclusion centre or in a special school. We want this to be within the city and not at a distant and costly out of city placement.

The key findings of a recent SEND strategic review showed that the number of SEN children is going up, especially those with severe learning difficulties and complex needs and those with autism.

We have a 5 year programme of building Inclusion Centres (in the grounds of mainstream schools)and expanding Special schools. This is in addition to a new 66 place government funded school at Wymering for children with autism which is due to open in 2022.

The other major investment for Education is a bit of harder sell! It is to replace the entire IT system where all the data, the confidential notes, the different services that I mentioned at the start, are all coordinated. With years and years of cuts, it’s tempting to ignore this investment but by imagining a situation where it failed highlights the impact this would have on the working practices of all staff and how it could jeopardise the safety of children not in school, missing children, SEN children, looked after children, child protection. It is just not worth the risk.

So, I am really thrilled that these bids were accepted as this not only meets our statutory responsibilities but will provide the high quality education that was recognised in the 2019 SEND inspection where OFSTED praised the SEND provision and put us in the top few authorities in the country. We are not complacent and we will continue to do all we can to keep the children who need the most specialist support near to home in high quality settings.

So that’s:

  • £0.5 million supporting social workers
  • £3.5 million for SEND places
  • £1.25m for a new IT system
  • £1.6m for repairs to school buildings

Really proud to be part of a Lib Dem administration that sees the value of such investment in people and the importance of education and help for families in empowering people.

Now to spend it…

Councillor Suzy Horton, Cabinet Member For Children, Families & Education

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