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Agenda and minutes

Venue: Committee rooms C, D & E - Merton Civic Centre, London Road, Morden SM4 5DX

No. Item


Apologies for absence


Apologies were received from Cllrs Henry and Neil with Cllrs Dehaney and Kenny respectively substituting.


Declarations of pecuniary interest


There were no declarations of pecuniary interest.


Minutes of the previous meeting pdf icon PDF 93 KB


With the addition of Cllr Taylor’s comment regarding the Wimbledon Park nodal point for Harris Wimbledon School, the minutes of the previous meeting were accepted as a true and accurate record.


Matters Arising

·         It has been agreed with the Children, Schools and Families Department that its response and action plan on the care leaver accommodation reference to Cabinet will come to Panel at the January meeting; and

·         The announcement of the planned departure of the Director for Children, Schools and Families Department was acknowledged.


Budget/business planning (Round 1) pdf icon PDF 49 KB

Additional documents:


Caroline Holland, Director Corporate Services, provided an introduction to the item on budget/business planning (round 1).  It was noted that this is the first round of budget scrutiny with a further round happening in the New Year before the Cabinet meeting at which the budget is finalised for approval at Council.  The objective of this first round is to provide an update on the Medium Term Financial Strategy and look at the savings and capital programme.


Highlighted there have been changes to the financial gap; whilst there is no additional funding needed in 18/19, from 19/20 onwards a significant increase is needed.  There is a predicted gap of £5.7m in 19/20 which rises to £21.7m cumulatively in 21/22. 


The budget forecast has been put together inclusive of a number of assumptions.  For example, that there will be an increase in staff salaries based on press reports.  This won’t be clarified until the budget on 22 November 2017. Until this time, a 2% increase over 2 years has been allowed. 


It has been determined that it makes no sense to give additional funding to the Children, Schools and Families and Community and Housing budgets in one year only to expect to take this back as savings in the next year.  For this reason, it has been agreed that the Environment and Regeneration and Corporate Services Departments will the make the necessary savings in the short term.  Also, funding of capital expenditure has been considered.


Further information is currently awaited on the budget.  For example, any change to the council tax base.  It was also noted that the capital programme allocation for Children, Schools and Families is focused on the development of the new Harris Wimbledon Secondary School.


In response to member questions, Caroline Holland and Yvette Stanley, Director, Children, Schools and Families (CSF), clarified as follows:

·         Caroline Holland: the anticipated costs of the new Harris Wimbledon Secondary School are as set out in the capital programme detailed in the agenda pack in addition to costs already incurred during 2016/2017.  It was noted that further information on the costs of the school, and how these might be impacted by various factors, are detailed in the officer report also contained in the agenda pack;

·         Caroline Holland: there is an ongoing process for maintaining knowledge of each Department’s current financial position through monitoring reports and meetings;

·         Yvette Stanley: budget items for which there are significant demand pressures are carefully scrutinised (such as SEN transport, care packages, no recourse to public funds and unaccompanied asylum seeker children).  Noted her gratitude for the pause in any savings requirement falling on the CSF Department due to the significant pressures which are being partially offset by planned growth over 3 years.  There will be a need for some replacement savings for 2018/19.  Proposals will come forward in January 2018 for the Panel’s consideration;

·         Caroline Holland: unallocated SEN funding needs are being addressed by the development of Merton’s own provision through the further expansion of SEN schools such as  ...  view the full minutes text for item 4.


Cabinet Member priorities

Updates against portfolio priorities will be provided by:

·         The Cabinet Member for Education (Councillor Cooper- Marbiah); and

·         The Cabinet Member for Children’s Services (Councillor Neep).


Cllr Caroline Cooper-Marbiah, Cabinet Member for Education, provided members with an update, highlighting the following:

1.    Exam results: Merton came joint first in England for Progress 8 results (along with Brent local authority) for pupils taking their GCSEs in 2017.  Progress 8 measures the progress that is made between Key Stages 2 and 4 and reflects the hard work of schools and young people themselves.  The Cabinet Member congratulated all those involved in this success;

2.    Ofsted school inspections: recently Park Community (Primary) School has been judged good and the Harris Primary Academy outstanding by Ofsted. A number of additional judgements are awaited.  Currently, 89% of all schools in Merton are good or outstanding compared to 79% nationally.  Work continues with other schools that have not been judged as highly by Ofsted; and

3.    Harris Wimbledon: an open evening has been held at which there was a strong display of parental interest in the new school.  Highlighted that based on current application levels, there will be at least 120 students needing additional school places demonstrating the need to have the Whatley Avenue site open.


In response to member questions, the Cabinet Member and Yvette Stanley, Director for Children, Schools and Families clarified:

·         Yvette Stanley: the success demonstrated by Merton’s Progress 8 scores isn’t down to just one factor and is the product of the quality of leadership and teaching, improved attendance and tremendous hard work by school staff supported by the Department;

·         Cllr Cooper-Marbiah: highlighted good leadership, management and the engagement of students and parents as the key elements in Merton’s success.  The Council is working to raise awareness of the success of Merton’s schools for example through Primary schools at the point in the year where parents and pupils are selecting their secondary place preferences.  This is a good opportunity to highlight the success of our schools; and

·         Yvette Stanley: noted that in terms of building the popularity of Merton’s schools with students and parents, reputation always takes some time to establish.  However, at the current time, all but two of Merton’s schools are full and oversubscribed which is indicative of their popularity.  Use of out of borough schools is also higher because there is not a good geographical spread of provision across Merton.  This is historic.  Additionally, some good schools on Merton’s boundaries have expanded in advance of local population increases.  However, now that this population increase is happening, Merton children will find it harder to go out of borough.  Noted that it is important to consider the types of school places available and that at the present time, the borough isn’t able to offer a co-educational school at its centre.  Again, highlighted the large number of secondary applications that have been received in comparison to previous years.


Cllr Katy Neep, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, provided members with an update, highlighting the following:


1.    Child death: noted that tragically there had been a child death in the borough in the previous week and  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.


Update: Harris Wimbledon pdf icon PDF 102 KB

Report to follow.

Additional documents:


Yvette Stanley, Director, Children, Schools and Families (CSF), introduced the item explaining the purpose was to provide the Panel with an update on its reference on the new school from July 2016 and to clarify demand for places as well as outlining the challenges and the risks.  Noted that the CSF Department is leading on making the case for the school.  It is also working with the Education Funding Agency (EFA) which is the major funder and Harris as the provider. The Environment and Regeneration Department has an important role in securing the site of the new school.  Highlighted that there have been various legal challenges to the development which may mean CSF officers are unable to answer member questions in detail.


Noted the concerns expressed by the local community regarding the development.  Highlighted that the Council is listening and responding.  For example, by altering the plans for the development of Merton Hall.  Acknowledged the concerns expressed by the LGBTQ community and that whilst she is personally unable to speak on behalf of the Elim Church, the church is subject to equality legislation and couldn’t discriminate through its lettings of the building. 


Tom Procter, Head of Contracts & School Organisation, noted the case for the new school was about providing needed additional school places but also about increasing choice and decreasing student travel.  Stated that the consultation on the new school had generated positive excitement – over 300 people attended the consultation meetings, 400 plus consultation questionnaires were returned with 95% of respondents in agreement with the proposal to open the school.  Highlighted the additional 260 secondary applications from Merton residents for September 2018 compared to 2017 and that six out of the eight Merton secondaries are already full.


Panel members, whilst acknowledging the need for the new school, expressed the need to address the issues that have been raised by the local community about the transfer of the freehold of Merton Hall to Elim Church.  There is unhappiness that a community asset is being given over to the use of the church and that there will be architectural changes to Merton Hall.  Also, there is concern that lettings might be made in an unfair way and to the disadvantage of elements of the community. 


In response to member questions, Yvette Stanley, Tom Procter and Jane McSherry, (Assistant Director, Education) provided the following clarification:

·         Tom Procter: the Council used a Compulsory Purchase Order approach to negotiate for the Elim Church land.  However, the current occupants still had to be relocated with the Council needing to provide alternative accommodation for the church within the SW19 postcode.  There were very few options available with Merton Hall the most viable;

·         Tom Procter: the current design for the redevelopment of Merton Hall gained the highest rating from the independent Design Review Panel before being approved by the council’s Planning Committee.  The local listing of Merton Hall is focused on the frontage which will be renovated through the redevelopment.  An application has been made by a  ...  view the full minutes text for item 6.


Department update report pdf icon PDF 121 KB


In response to member questions, Yvette Stanley, Director, Children, Schools and Families and Jane McSherry, Assistant Director, Education, provided the following clarification:

·         Jane McSherry: the Department is working hard to maximise take-up of the 30 hours of funded childcare.  This is complex to administer as the criteria for the two year old offer is different from the three and four year old offer.  Historically, take-up hasn’t been good for the free two year olds offer where this is targeted at parents who aren’t working.  Work is therefore ongoing to promote this opportunity.  Noted that the funded childcare offer provides an opportunity for Merton’s primary schools; it is hoped children taking up pre-school places will then apply for school places;

·         Jane McSherry: the increase in children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) reflects the general increase in the population as opposed to a disproportionate increase in children with SEND, ie: the rate of children with SEND has not changed greatly.  However, this is still leading to significant increases in the number of children with an Education, Health and Care Plan.  The expansion of Merton’s SEN provision aims to decrease use of the independent sector for suitable provision given this is costly.  The expansion works are funded through the capital programme.  However, placement costs are funded through the Higher Needs Block of the Dedicated Schools Grant which isn’t increasing and isn’t sufficient to cover the costs.  This is an issue across London; and

·         Yvette Stanley: increasing Merton’s own provision of suitable SEN placements is better and more cost effective, reducing any overspend.  Noted that London Councils are overspending on SEN transport provision on average at around £1m per annum.  Highlighted that the Department is working through London Councils to lobby Government on spending for which there is no recourse to public funds.



Work Programme pdf icon PDF 145 KB


It was noted that the focus of the next meeting (17 January 2018) will be on health and wellbeing strategies for children and families.  Slides from the public health briefing that took place before the meeting will be distributed to all members to support them in participating in the January meeting.


Members were reminded that there will be a budget scrutiny training opportunity at 7pm on 9 January 2018 (in the committee rooms).  All members are recommended to attend even if they have done so previously because this will give an overview of the latest financial position.