Written evidence submitted by London Borough of Camden


Call for evidence: The impact of COVID-19 on education and children’s services


  1. Introduction

1.1.           We have been working as part of our Camden family of schools and with Camden Learning to ensure all schools and teachers are supported during this time. Camden Learning, which is the joint enterprise between Camden schools and the Council, has a strong track record of bringing together teachers, headteachers and other education professionals to share expertise and develop new ways of working.


1.2.           During the coronavirus pandemic that foundation has been drawn upon to help schools and teachers support each other and share their best practice. Camden Learning have been holding regular calls with headteachers and sharing updates via their daily bulletin to schools.


1.3.           Throughout this time we are have continued to engage with young people through our services included Integrated Youth, Children’s Safeguarding and Social Work, Complex Families and Family Support as well as specific events including regular youth shout out events online and a young people’s roundtable with Georgia Gould, Leader of the Council, Keir Starmer, MP for Holborn and St Pancras, and young people from across Camden currently being supported by our schools, services and voluntary sector partners. Their views are fed in throughout this response.


  1. Implementation of the critical workers policy and consistency of educational approach

2.1.           In line with current national guidance the majority of Camden schools have remained open to ensure provision for the children of key workers and our most vulnerable pupils. There were three stages to our plan around this. For the first two weeks all schools remained open with staff arrangements in place to ensure provision is running for those pupils who are invited / expected in school (EHC / ENG / vulnerable pupils and children of key workers). We provided an information sheet and form for all schools to enable consistency across the borough in line with the five principles set out by the cabinet office.


2.2.           We explained to families that although children will be at school they will not have their normal curriculum and pupils will broadly follow the same model as those at home and provision. For children who need special educational provision within school as set out in their EHC Plan we worked closely with colleagues in health and social care to ensure they received that additional support although recognising it might be different from what would normally be provided. We also provided guidance and support for families whose children were home learning full time to enable a consistency of approach.


2.3.           During school and public holidays schools worked together in cluster groups / planning areas to check contingency staffing levels, providing flexibility to work across schools to share resources and ensure staff have the opportunity to have a break. This included working with Camden play providers to deliver play services within schools.


2.4.           We have continued to provide a full Free School Meal (FSM) service to all pupils attending schools during this period. Additionally the Council has provided in excess of 12,000 food hampers for pupils who are entitled to Free School Meals but not currently attending school.


2.5.           We have further support all Camden school and nursery staff by providing free on street parking to give them the option of driving in to work if they preferred as well as offering the option cycling to staff by providing free bikes to use if they wanted.


2.6.           Camden’s Educational Psychology Team continues to offer a critical incident response to Headteachers in schools, and to senior leaders where they have a lead for critical incident responses in that school.  In the event of a COVID related critical incident, the Educational PS’ primary aim will be to offer short-term psychological support to the schools management team to appropriately manage the event.  The approach taken will focus on supporting the school to promote a sense of safety, calm, self and community efficacy, connectedness and hope.   


  1. Children’s Services and Support for Families 

3.1.           Our capacity and ability to deliver children’s services to support vulnerable children and young people has continued to operate fully. Our core purpose is safeguarding children and our values are to work in partnership with families to effect change that improves outcomes. Our Children’s Safeguarding and Social Work service has been delivering all their services in a new way, with a focus on virtual visits and meetings with the C&YP and their families and carers. Looked After Children, Child protection plans and Child In Need plans continue to be progressed, and case conference and reviews are taking place as normal albeit via video and phone conference calls.  Direct work continues with the children and young people, and we have learnt that some young people prefer this way of communicating though social media means. 


3.2.           All child protection referrals continue to be managed within MASH timeframes, and use of partner agencies to ensure strategy discussions and plans are in place. For Child Protection/ Child in Need and Looked After Children Visits these are being carried out virtually except when concerns deem a visit necessary. Families have told us they are fearful and anxious about COVID, and worried about children returning to school.  


3.3.           We are supporting children and families in other ways too. Many schools and nurseries are checking-in with families who may be vulnerable during periods of COVID-19 closure. To compliment this vital work, and to offer additional support to our schools and nurseries during this difficult time, our Camden Early Help has also offered a family welfare check-in service. The Camden Early Help Family Check-In is made up of two ten minute phone calls a week with a family with children aged 0-19. The staff member will check the family is ok and has access to basic needs (food, medicines and supplies). Information on COVID-19 advice will be provided from the Public Health England guidance. If the family needs some help, the staff member will connect them to sources of support. The staff member will not do home visits. The family check-in is for low-level concerns and needs only. Additional support for families whose children are in early years settings is also being provided by the Inclusive Intervention Team.


  1. Early Years

4.1.           Some private, voluntary and independent nurseries have remained open for the children of key workers as well as vulnerable children. A number of our children’s centres have remained open with family workers, benefits advice and other help continuing to be available. We continued to work closely with health services offering dedicated support around baby and infant feeding as well as extended health visitor and midwifery support through our centres.


4.2.           Nevertheless we are concerned about the impact of closure of early years settings will have had on disadvantaged children with no access to early education. In addition to the statutory childcare offer for three and four year olds and disadvantaged two year olds, Camden Council currently funds a range of early years services. This includes universal and targeted children’s centre activities such as family support and health visiting and 15 hours of additional early education for disadvantaged three and four year olds (our unique “Camden enhanced offer”) at five designated Centres, Harmood, Agar, Regents Park, 1a and Kilburn Grange.


4.3.           Significant research over the last 5 years can evidence the importance of the period from conception to age two in determining a child’s long term outcomes. Barnardo’s, for example, have found that if a child is behind at the age of two he/she is more likely to fall further behind than to catch up. Supporting parents to respond to their babies cues and develop a secure attached relationship gives children the resilience to cope with the negative impact of adverse childhood experiences and mitigate the impact that these can have on long term relationships, learning, and well-being.


4.4.           Pre-COVID19 Camden children were achieving in line with the national average at the end of their reception year, there is still a significant gap in the achievement of disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers. We won’t see the true impact of this until children return to nursery/school, and the attainment gap is measured. Camden would be supportive of retaining the flexibility around the use for Early Years Discretionary Schools Grant DSG to allow us to support the sector as it exits from lockdown.


  1. Impact of education changes on older children

5.1.           At our youth shout out event held in May young people told us they were worried about going back to school and abiding by social distancing. There were fears about exams and whether they would get the exam results they were hoping. Some also said they felt like they hadn’t done enough to be judged on for their GCSEs and that it was going to be really hard going back to school/college to start their A-Levels. For some young people there had been real difficulties with engaging with school online and the impact of the digital divide had been felt a lot by Camden children.


5.2.           Young people also said they were worried about their teachers recognising that they had been under a huge amount of pressure to make this work over the last couple of months as well as the additional pressures of the time.


5.3.           Young people talked about the importance of getting the right wellbeing and mental health support in place so it isn’t just education focussed. It is equally important to be able to talk about how people are feeling rather than diving straight into school work and the expectations around it being the same. We are exploring whether we can hold some kind of celebration event for children transitioning between key educational steps.


  1. University, Work Experience and Next Steps

6.1.           Young people told us that some people had chosen to change their plans around going to university next year deciding to take a gap year and build up some more work experience because they are not keen on the option of the first term being completely online. They also felt it was really important to acknowledge the disadvantage that year 10s and 12s are at. They don’t know if the school year will carry on as normal or if they will have to retake the year. There are also challenges around not being able to visit universities and not having any predicted grades in place to support applications. They felt this would widen the inequalities in society making it harder for some people to catch up. Some of the support available includes our Connexions services has been operating a virtual drop in service to give careers advice on training, education, jobs and apprentices both in and outside term time.


6.2.           In Camden we are working with Hult International Business School and Birkbeck, University of London, to help Camden residents of all ages realise their potential through a range of life-changing scholarship opportunities, with fully-funded courses starting this autumn. Birkbeck is offering two scholarship places to Camden residents for any of their undergraduate courses starting in October 2020 whilst Hult International Business School is offering Camden residents a fully-funded one-year intensive postgraduate Master of International Business degree including practical work experience.


6.3.           In Camden we have a number of supported interns who have SEND. Currently these placements are either on hold or working remotely. However we concerned about the impact this will have on our support interns in the long term as this all based on experiential learning. This is time and experience that people will never get back.


  1. Next steps

7.1.           We don’t yet know the longer term impact of COVID19 on our children and young people. We are continuing to work with our Camden family of schools, voluntary and statutory partners and of course our children and families to look at how our practice can continue to be flexible to external factors and continue to provide an outstanding inclusive educational offer.

May 2020