In 2015, Sandwell schools told that us many new arrival children were going into schools knowing little about the education system. There was limited information about their capabilities or family history, leading to schools having to divert scarce resources to support them. This caused distress and slowed integration.
The Sandwell New Arrivals Partnership (SNAP), for council services and the voluntary sector, further confirmed the demands on services across Sandwell and how a holistic approach was needed.
Sandwell Transition Education Partnership Service (STEPS) – a school-like setting for 75 children aged five to 16, was launched in February 2017 as a local authority pilot. Since then, more than 2,000 children representing 64 nationalities have attended and there have been over 4000 service users.
Our motto reflects our commitment:
• DREAM (our families dream of a better future)
• GROW (in their learning, confidence and practical application)
• THRIVE (in Sandwell and make positive economic and social contributions)
The centre, expertly run by executive headteacher Balwant Bains, supports our school admissions process. An interview at STEPS is organised within seven days of an application. We establish right to remain in the UK, care relationships, eligibility for a Sandwell school place and a baseline assessment is completed.
STEPS is a frontline service that provides continuity in learning. Early intervention helps us safeguard vulnerable children and families quickly and prevent them being exploited, be this via rogue landlords, attendance at unregistered schools, modern day slavery or child sexual exploitation. The average length of stay is 16 days.
We understand families’ needs and signpost them to agencies, including careers services, libraries, GPs, Brushstrokes, SureStart, Citizens Advice Bureau and social care, so that families can access support.
Through partnership we have delivered:
• Adult learning – this helps parents to support children’s learning, pursue employment and make connections in the community. This includes Basic ESOL (Improving speaking, writing, listening and reading skills in English – 111 adults) and Sandwell Parenting Partnership & Public Health (the Parent Changes course has had 87 certificates awarded).
• Drop-in support: addressing health, internet safety, grooming, furniture provision, food banks and more.
• Work experience for nine students and voluntary opportunities for 10 others.
• 127 home visits, 85 referrals made to the Children Missing Education team.
• 12 children fast-tracked education health and care plans (via the inclusion support team).
• Weekly Albion Foundation sports/games sessions help break down cultural barriers and racial stereotypes.
• 598 GP registrations supported by Public Health partnership
• 15 West Midlands Police sessions, giving the children a chance explore positions of responsibility and raise their aspirations.
• Black Country Women’s Aid raised awareness of women’s rights (involving 30 women).
Based on our successful pilot, STEPS was recognised by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) in February 2018, with a 24-month funding grant of £868,667 through the Migration Fund.
In a climate of reduced council budgets, by linking together council services and establishing links with other organisations, the cost benefit analysis indicates that through STEPS work, the saving to the public purse has been £44,415 cost of truancy aversion and £5,376,500 improved families and children’s wellbeing (based on a Rawlings Heffernan Consultancy Services Ltd independent evaluation, Jan 2020).
Throughout the life of Migration Fund (32 months) this cost benefit will total £8,131,372.
STEPS is a small provision achieving big results by taking the fear out of the unknown for our new arrival families. It is a huge honour to be winners for The MJ as innovators in children’s services.
The award is testimony to the hard work and endeavour of our staff and in particular the executive headteacher, Balwant Bains.
Lesley Hagger is executive director of children’s services at Sandwell MBC