I hope the first week of term went well and you are still feeling refreshed from the break. It was good to hear from several of you that far fewer staff were absent with Covid this week. At the end of last term, it was clear that many of you were having to manage really serious staffing difficulties and though coping heroically, the strain and pressures were enormous. Thank you again for all you are doing and let’s hope the more positive pattern continues.

Before the end of last term, the government published a Schools White Paper: Opportunity for all and a Green Paper, SEND Review: Right support, Right Place, Right Time. Both Papers point to a number of significant changes over the next few years with the Green Paper perhaps proposing the more radical set of proposals. Whatever finally emerges will need to take account of the significant increase in child poverty that seems likely. The Resolution Foundation reported recently that the number of people living in absolute poverty is projected to rise in 2022-23 by 1.3 million, including 500,000 children. Small falls are projected after 2023-24, but this would still leave the share of people and children in absolute poverty higher in 2026-27 than in 2019-20. Relative child poverty, meanwhile, is projected to rise to rates not seen since the record-breaking 1990s, with 33 per cent of children living in relative poverty by 2026-27. But I don’t want to depress you already and I promise that we will work closely with you not only to respond to what is proposed but to manage any changes too. We are fortunate to have a relationship with the council that means we will all work closely together to do the very best for children and young people in Camden.

I have been in several meetings recently where the difference between a White Paper and a Green Paper has been discussed. It’s not surprising there is confusion as the differences between the two have become blurred over the years. Generally, the former is seen as an authoritative statement of government policy signalling the intention to pass legislation. We will have to wait for the Queen’s Speech on 10 May to see exactly what flows from this White Paper into an education bill. A Green Paper is an earlier step towards legislation and is intended to generate debate about proposals through a period of consultation. Consultation for this SEND Green Paper closes on 1 July 2022 and Camden Learning will want to respond formally to the proposals. I know the council will want to do so too.

It will therefore be important for us to discuss the proposals in both Papers and we will use the usual pattern of headteacher and governor meeting already in diaries for this term to start to do just that. The Camden Learning Board will be having its first discussion about the proposals at its meeting on 19 May. I know already that Directors want to take time to look carefully at the proposals and to engage you in as much discussion as possible about the responses you want us to take.

During the break, Martin Pratt received a call from Ofsted to tell him that an inspection of the Council’s children’s services would start on the first day of term. The focus of the inspection is:

  • How Camden helps and protects children
  • The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers
  • Arrangements for permanence.

Inspectors have been a reviewing documents, analysing data and talking to staff and councillors virtually this week. This coming week they will be carrying out what they describe as ‘the fieldwork’, both virtually and in person. As headteachers and schools play such an important role in providing support, they plan to see some of you. Martin has written to you about the inspection and hopes to join Tuesday’s Primary Heads’ meeting to say a little more about it.

I look forward to seeing primary heads on Tuesday and secondary heads at various meetings over the next few weeks before the regular meeting on 18 May. I will update you then on progress with Jon’s replacement and the post of Director of Learning which we advertised at the same time.

With my best wishes for a positive and energising term.

Christine Gilbert

Chair, Camden Learning

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