The best possible start in life for Devon's children- DCC

CHILDREN in Devon are getting more help and support than ever to enable them to thrive and achieve – according to a report published today.

CHILDREN in Devon are getting more help and support than ever to enable them to thrive and achieve - according to a report published today.

Devon County Council's Executive will today note the contents of a report which outlines the key objectives identified to achieve one of the priorities in its strategic plan; to give children the best possible start in life.

The report shows that the council has exceeded many of these objectives, and has had a measurable impact on the lives of children and young people across Devon.

Nine target areas were established to support the council's aim, including improving school attendance and exam results; giving more support to vulnerable children; improving access to mental health services and extending opportunities for 16-18 year-olds.

In improving the support to schools, significant improvements have been made in attainment, particularly at Key Stage4, with GCSE results rising by 30% in Exeter since 2005.

Every child with a Child Protection Plan is now supported by an allocated social worker who regularly reviews their needs, and other improvements include a more effective Local Safeguarding Children's Board, better training and supervision and a more robust performance management.

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Children in Care have better prospects. Their attainment at school has improved, and excellent progress has been made in improving the health of children in care, adoptions and the allocation of qualified social workers to children in care.

Young people in Devon are strongly involved in making decisions that affect their lives. Devon is recognised as a national leader in hearing the voice of young people and responding accordingly, and young people have shaped and influenced many of the priorities in the Children and Young People's Plan.

Joint working between the Council and Devon Primary Care Trust is strong and continues to improve. The Children and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMHS) strategy has been updated, and significant investment made into the service.

Targets to engage pupils in at least two hours of PE and sport a week have been comfortably exceeded, and a significant improvement made to the health of Devon's children and young people. Devon's Healthy Schools Programme received outstanding praise when it was independently evaluated by Hull University in 2007, and over 80% of Devon's schools are judged as having reached healthy schools standard. The five Devon School Sport Partnerships are ranked highly nationally and many children are well served with opportunities for sport and physical activity.

Attendance at secondary schools has improved. In 2001-2 there were 28 permanent exclusions, and as a result of a range of investment and programmes, 2007-8 has seen just seven to date - below both the national and south west average. As a result Devon is no longer a priority area for persistent absence.

Figures from Ofsted show that fewer Devon schools require special measures than its neighbours or nationally. Ofsted inspections show overall effectiveness of educational provision in Devon is good or better, and that support from the Council is good. Plans have been used as exemplars in other local authority areas, and evidence shows the challenge and support provided to schools by council staff is very effective.

Through effective partnerships with organisations like Devon Education Business Partnership, Devon has a very successful track record for 16-18 year-olds not in education, employment or training. It shows consistently fewer young people in this category than other similar authorities or nationally, both at 16-18 and at 19. Devon's young people have a range of provision for courses and diplomas, and the newly formed Integrated Youth Support Service will further improve opportunities.

Devon County Council's Executive Member for Children and Young People's Services, Councillor John Smith, said: "This report shows that our commitment to giving young people the best possible start in life is showing tangible results, and I am really pleased that we have exceeded the ambitious targets we set ourselves to improve.

"Schools are providing an even better standard of education and results at Key Stages 2 and 4 now exceed the national rates of improvement, and better school attendance enables more children to benefit from their educational opportunities.

"Improvements for some of our most vulnerable children mean they have the consistency and support they need at a time when they most need it, and we have broadened the range of options for young adults, giving them more choice and better skills.

"However, there is always more we can do, and we will continue to monitor progress and listen to young people themselves to find further ways to improve the services and opportunities we offer them.