Jonathan Crossley-Holland interview

The Burngreave Messenger interviewed Jonathan Crossley-Holland, Executive Director of the Council’s Children and Young People’s Directorate, about the new plan to create more school places in Burngreave and Fir Vale, about attainment in the City and about new developments around Specialist Children’s Services (Social Services) and Service Districts.

Messenger: You plan to create extra places at St Catherine’s Roman Catholic Primary and Pye Bank Church of England Primary, but both of these are church schools. Are you comfortable about the implications of this for families with no religion or another religion?

Jonathan Crossley Holland: That’s a good question, but our soundings in advance of the consultation show that Muslim parents are not unhappy about sending their children to a faith school as respect for spirituality is something they value, as long as the school shows respect for their particular faith, for instance by providing prayer rooms. Without pre-empting the consultation, that seems to be the view of Muslim parents across the city and nationally.

Messenger: Five years ago, when the two old Pye Bank schools were merged, many local people warned that 30 places in each year group was insufficient. Do you agree, with hindsight, that you got it wrong back then?

JCH: We have to accept that earlier estimates were wrong, but the amalgamated Pye Bank School was built in such a way that it would be easy to expand. Much of the city was caught by surprise by the extent of rising numbers. I don’t think even Burngreave residents would have predicted a 17% rise in the number of children in Burngreave, which is what we have.

Messenger: Many local parents are concerned about attainment at Pye Bank Primary School, which was at the very bottom of the national league tables for value added attainment. You propose to increase the number if children in each year group from 30 to 60. Is it really wise to double the size of a school with such poor attainment?

JCH: Making sure that Pye Bank offers high quality education is important whatever size it is. I can assure local residents that the Local Authority and the Diocese are working extremely closely together to solve the standards issues. We share the view of residents that standards are not high enough and are confident we will see improvements.

Messenger: Looking at Fir Vale, you propose to move from having 3 classes at Owler Brook which move up to Whiteways Junior to having 2 classes at both schools all through the infant and junior stages. But Owler Brook and Hucklow schools are already very over-subscribed. Will this plan be sufficient? Don’t we really need a new school?

JCH: We think the plan will be sufficient, but the Cabinet did look very seriously at building a new school, but there were two problems with this. First, though we looked hard with our colleagues in Neighbourhoods, it was very difficult to identify any land for a new school. Secondly, given that there were two areas, Burngreave and Fir Vale, where there were increasing pupils numbers, one primary school was not the best solution to where the demand was coming from.

Messenger: Looking broadly at achievement, we’ve seen some real improvements in achievement in secondary schools in Burngreave, but overall, Sheffield rates poorly compared with other cities and local authorities nationally, even when social deprivation is taken into account. Why is this?

JCH: Well, Sheffield’s inner city schools are doing as well as those in other parts of the country or better. The weakness is more in the middling areas in the South East and North West. There is a mixture of reasons for this. First it’s because the curriculum isn’t sufficiently fitted to the needs of young people, this contrasts with schools which have adopted the new vocational curriculum which certain young people, regardless of ability, are very motivated by. This is the reason for the improvements at Firth Park, for instance. The second reason is the historical problem in Sheffield of a low level of language skills, especially among boys and especially among white working class pupils. There are different issues for black and ethnic minority children who have English as a second language, but, over time, these children catch up and we’ve seen the gap between black and ethnic minority children and the rest of the city narrow markedly in the last five years. The final reason, a more technical one, is to do with effective assessment of learning and knowing where each child is at in their learning. We are planning a “Transforming Learning” initiative with our school partners which will apply in and out of school and across Early Years, Primary and Secondary, as the problems are similar.

Messenger: There are many referrals to Specialist Children’s Services, formerly Social Services, in Burngreave. Previously there were problems with inspections of Social Services, and the review into the “W” case where services had not worked properly. Are you confident that you have sorted safeguarding services now?

JCH: Well, we asked Professor Cantrill, who did the review into the “W” case to do a follow up review and she used words like “remarkable” and “amazing progress” with regard to how effective safeguarding is in Sheffield, describing it as “at the cutting edge”. There’s always been an awareness of safeguarding among Child Protection Social Workers, but now universal services such as schools and GPs have made real moves around joining up services, which was the issue raised by the “W” case – services not knowing what each other were doing. We now have an integrated common database for safeguarding concerns with SafetyNet, which Social Services are now using. And developments in organisation, structures and systems, such as the moving Health Visitors and School Nurses into being managed in localities through Service Districts. Everyone, including the voluntary sector, now sees safeguarding as a priority, and along with Attainment and Service Districts, Safeguarding is one of 3 main priorities for Children and Young People’s Directorate.

Messenger: There has been concern that Child Protection Social Workers wouldn’t be devolved out to localities. Is this now being addressed?

JCH: That is going to happen, steadily, over the next 18 months. It needs to be done carefully, but both Family Placement and Child Protection Social Workers will be part of the Service District teams. I think it’s very important that all the people working with vulnerable children are working together. We also need to get better at prevention, which can only happen if services are working closely with local communities.

Messenger: It’s been exciting to see local professionals come together under the Burngreave and Shiregreen Service District, but there doesn’t appear to be any resources for Service Districts. Won’t it all unravel if this isn’t addressed?

JCH: Well, of our 262 indicators we have three priorities, one of which is Service Districts. It isn’t going to be an initiative that fades and other services outside children’s services are taking on the Service District model. It takes time but there will be no backing off. We’re trying hard to find the money, especially for preventative work, in a very difficult climate, in order to support Service Districts to respond to local issues.

Messenger: With regard to local issues, in Burngreave Shiregreen we identified local issues, such as young people’s mental health, but it feels like a lot of issues are imposed from the centre, such as teenage pregnancy, which is less of a priority in Burngreave.

JCH: There will always be a tension between city-wide priorities and local needs. We need to recognize that, even when there is a city priority, how we address that needs to be informed by local issues. We recognize that we need to be able to respond to local priorities as well. There’s also the issue of whether you focus on symptoms, or underlying causes. We know that teenage pregnancy has a lot to do with self-esteem. When we know the issues in an area we can produce strategies and plans which respond to the situation. We need to deal with both city-wide and local priorities. The way to tackle headline issues is to address the root problems.

Messenger: Is there anything else that you’d like to add:

JCH: Just to say that I’ve always had a particular interest in Burngreave from the days when I was on the Burngreave New Deal Partnership Board. Burngreave is one of the touchstones of the City so it’s very important to improve the lives and opportunities of children in Burngreave. I’m very pleased with the progress achieved by all of us, though I don’t think we’re there yet.

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