Agenda item

Questions asked by members.


The following questions were received under Standing Order 7(3) and 7(5) and was put to the Chairman of the Children and Families Overview and Scrutiny Committee:


Question asked by Mr. P. King:

“Parent and carers in the Market Harborough West and Foxton division have informed me that they are increasingly concerned about the provision of respite care for parents of children with special needs in the Market Harborough area. Recently, both Melton and Glenfield respite centres run by Praxis Care were closed overnight by Ofsted on the 1st of December 2022 due to safeguarding issues.

Parents carers are concerned that despite repeated attempts to secure alternative provision nothing has been put in place as yet, to enable regular respite for parents/carers from their often highly complex, stressful and demanding carer roles.

Residents have asked me to ask what policies and procedures Leicestershire County Council has in place for when services like this are closed through emergency measures?

And what are children’s services doing to help affected parents/carers, and especially those in the Market Harborough West and Foxton locality?

Reply by the Chairman

When Ofsted places a Children’s provision into special measures, as Praxis has been, then the Local Authority has processes and procedures in place to ensure quality assurance of provision and appropriate action is taken in respect of any children living at or accessing the service. These process and procedures were activated as soon as Praxis Care was put into special measures.

Since the closure of PRAXIS, the children’s social care team have been working with children and families to review their packages of short break support. Where possible the Department has commissioned alternative packages, including where suitable, overnight care in the family home to support the child and their family. The Department is continuing to seek alternative provision that will support the children and their families in the local area, whilst longer term solutions are put in place.


Question asked by Mrs. A. Hack:

“In a recent survey, 22,000 school buildings were assessed from which a report that was published in May 2021. In this report 260* school buildings in Leicestershire and Rutland* were identified as grade C (poor) and more worryingly 77 were classified as category D condition which is described in the report as Life expired or at serious risk of imminent failure.

*the report includes 22 schools in Rutland.


1.    As the authority responsible for allocating students to school, what oversight does the County Council have over the condition of Leicestershire Schools?


There was a recent round of funding announced by the Government, 32 schools in Leicestershire have been allocated funding for 38 different improvement projects.  Works included a recently transferred academy school Ravenhurst Primary in my division for ‘Life Expired Condition Roof.  Of the remaining projects the word ‘urgent’ appears 21 times.  This funding was in addition to the 5 schools selected for rebuilds.  Which seems to offer repairs to a fraction of the schools identified in the 2021 report.


2.    Does the authority have a clear view to the condition of the remaining schools that are maintained as well as those managed by the Multi Academy Trusts.  This includes  the safety of children and the workforce at the sites that have been identified as having category C and D defects?


3.    What liaison does Leicestershire County Council have with the Head Teachers about the condition of Leicestershire Schools?


4.    If the information is available, can Councillors receive an update on the condition of the schools highlighted with category C/D defects within their divisions?


5.    Of the school estate that has been transferred from locally maintained (including Ravenhurst in my division), was there a clear maintenance plan agreed ahead of any transfer and how is the condition of the schools managed where there have been Category C and D defects in the buildings?


6.    For the remaining maintained school, what is the inspection regime for managing the school estate and how does this change when schools are transferred to Academies?”


Reply by the Chairman:


1.    Leicestershire county Council is responsible for assessing the condition of maintained Leicestershire Schools. Maintained Schools are inspected every 5 years, as recommended by Department for Education (DfE). The inspection information is then used to plan the maintenance required on the buildings.


2.    The authority has a record of the condition of the Maintained schools, including sites that have been identified as having category C and D defects.  LCC have a record of the condition of those Academy schools, where the Multi-Aacademy Trust’s (MAT) commissions the Council for a professional fee to carry out a survey.  


3.    The authority has good relationships with maintained school head teachers and those MAT’s that buy into the Council’s property scheme


4.    The Department can share with Councillors the information for maintained schools in their area. 


5.    In the process of academy transfer the maintenance of buildings becomes the responsibility of the Trust. As part of the transfer process the Trust undertakes due diligence on school building condition and negotiates depending on the situation. There is an offer of continuing with the Council’s buyback scheme. If after academisation there is a need to repair / replace the MAT can apply for funding to do so.


6.    The frequency of inspection of Maintained Schools is every five years, as recommended by DfE. Once a school transfers to Academy, the Property is removed from the inspection list. Property Ops are available to carry out a Condition survey for the Academy, for a Professional Fee.


Supplementary questions asked by Mrs. A. Hack


Mrs Hack asked the following supplementary questions:


A.    “Supplementary to the response to question 1, what is the current position with regards to MAT’s; do we as the statutory authority responsible for the allocating of youngsters at school and for providing enough places, have assurance that schools are well looked after?


B.    Supplementary to the response to question 2, where does a councillor find out the information on MAT school building quality?


C.   Supplementary to the response to question 3, the question I was trying to understand is the openness within the head teachers’ group about the school buildings and if they were confident that the programme of works needed to keep their schools free of Category C/D defects were in place.


D.   Supplementary to the response to question 4, as a Councillor without any maintained schools and in fact over four primary schools that provide places for children in my division, there are four different MATs, where do we get assurance that the buildings are safe? Particularly in light of the list of 38 school buildings that are receiving patch up funding from DfE, ten of these are for roof works and 14 contain the words ‘safe’…does these mean the buildings are currently unsafe?


E.    Supplementary to the response to question 6, What is the requirement for MAT’s?, Who provides assurance and whilst we had assurance when the estate was transferred from ourselves, the longer these buildings are being managed by many bodies the risk of standard quality gets greater.  How do we seek assurance as Councillors and where from?”


At the invitation of the Chairman, the Director of Children and Family Services indicated that this information would be provided to Mrs. A. Hack after the meeting.


[Subsequent to the meeting a response was provided to Mrs Hack as follows:


a)    Article 1.20 in the Academy Trust Handbook 2021 ( confirms that, “The DfE expects academy trusts to manage their school estate strategically and maintain their estate in a safe working condition.” The DfE, through the ESFA, is responsible for the maintenance of academy buildings. The LA does not have a role in statutory assessment of the condition of academy buildings although in practice concerns would be raised by headteachers and impact capacity assessments. The OFSTED inspection process would also highlight health and safety concerns or the impact of the estate condition on the effectiveness of teaching. 


b)    This would be a matter to discuss with the MAT.


c)    Question 1 explains the responsibility for assessing and planning maintenance for maintained school buildings. If a maintained school is identified as having a category D defect this is addressed as a matter of reactive urgency. Where category C issues are judged as minor (such as floor finishes or internal decoration) these are recorded and scheduled for remedy: category C can be used to draw attention to non-critical defects. Where the category C defect relates to a major structural element repair is prioritised.

It is the MAT’s responsibility to identify category C/D defects and to address these (including seeking funding from the EFSA). There is no evidence to suggest that head teachers and trust leaders are not being open about this.

d)    Assurance of school building safety sits with the MAT. Councillors would need to contact the MAT to seek this assurance.


Further information about the condition grading process is available at which includes a definition of grades A-D and a priority categorisation from 1-4. A grade D defect may not necessarily also be priority 1 – urgent. It is also worth noting that a bid for condition funding is more likely to be successful where the urgency of necessary remediation is highlighted.


This does not imply that buildings are currently unsafe: MATs have a fundamental duty to ensure the safety of their pupils and staff. The process being discussed is designed to prevent buildings becoming unsafe.


e)    As outlined, it is the responsibility of the MAT to maintain their estate and the DfE recommendation of five-yearly condition surveys applies. Any MAT receiving a new school will undertake a programme of due diligence including an assessment of the condition of the property and ensuing liabilities. Councillors would need to approach MATs to ascertain details.]


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