To seek comments on the detailed budget proposals for the High Needs Block element of the Schools Budget and to take a small number of decisions in line with the statutory funding framework.
The Forum considered a report which sought comments on the detailed budget proposals for the High Needs Block (HNB) element of the Schools Budget presented by the Council. There were also a small number of decisions for the Forum to take
in line with the statutory funding framework.
Kashif Nawaz summarised the developments as set out in paragraph 6.3 of the report and highlighted the new in-school special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provisions. Kashif Nawaz explained that the SEND commissioning plan was to work with the HNB Sub Group to develop an action plan alongside key stakeholders. Kashif Nawaz was confident that the action plan would help relieve pressures although more work was needed to get to a balanced budget.
In relation to paragraph 6.3.3 of the report, the Peter Floyd, Special School Representative, clarified that Kennel Lane School (KLS) had 196 children on roll with two more in transition.
The Forum discussed the new in-school SEN provisions as headteacher representatives had little knowledge of their objectives. Taking the first project on the schedule, Harmanswater in-school SEN provision, it was queried whether this was designed to reduce Education Health Care Plans (EHCP). Kashif Nawaz confirmed that it was trying to reduce the demand of EHCPs. The Forum then questioned how this could be measured in terms of seeing whether the money spent has reduced pressures. Kashif Nawaz explained that the projects could not be looked at in isolation but instead should be looked at as a whole. However, this project was specifically aiming to reduce the use of Social Emotional Mental Health (SEMH) as a primary need, as SEMH in certain cases could be better met within mainstream provision albeit with additional support. The SEND Commissioning Strategy would be reviewed after two years and it was expected that any impact would be seen at that point.
The Forum enquired whether the details of the projects would be available to the public. Kashif Nawaz advised that it was published on the SEND Local Offer:
The Forum queried how schools were chosen for these projects. Kashif Nawaz explained that all schools were invited to bid, and applications were presented to the Council’s Departmental Managers Team (DMT) to make a decision against the criteria. In the first year there were a significant number of applications and four schools met the criteria. In the second year only two made a bid and were both successful. Bids were now open for the third year. Paul Clark clarified that the projects outlined in the report were not the only projects approved as the ones funded from a different budget were outside the scope of this report.
The Forum asked what outcomes were expected. Kashif Nawaz advised that the strategy was aiming to adopt a whole system approach. Schools would be encouraged to tap into the Early Help resources. The expectation was that development would happen alongside provision via a range of Panels and Hubs.
The Forum queried whether progress of the new in-school SEND provisions could be shared with the Forum in the same way as the Intervention Hub. Kashif Nawaz advised that would form part of the action plan and would be reported to the HNB Sub Group.
Paul Clark then provided an update on the financial impact from the ongoing review of the programme as set out in paragraph 6.4 of the report. There had been an increase in costs in the current year which would continue into 2020-21, mostly attributed to taking on additional pupils in KLS. A positive was that it had now been confirmed that business rates cost increases expected on new and expanded schools could only be back dated to 2017, meaning that approximately £0.700m of expected costs would not materialise and the related provision could be released and applied to part finance the forecast over spend on the HNB.
Paul Clark advised that DSG income was still an estimated amount as the Council was awaiting confirmation from the DfE which wasn’t expected until March or April 2020.
Paul Clark explained that the overall deficit forecast for March 2023 had widened by a further £1.698m to £4.761m. Annex 4 of the report showed how it was proposed to profile next year’s budget into specific services, but the Forum was reminded that the figures were only estimates and could change such as if a child ended up going to a different type of provision.
Paul Clark highlighted that the Council planned to continue working in partnership with the HNB Sub Group to develop further service improvements and savings to remove the £1.5m underlying funding gap. The Forum expressed that it seemed a huge responsibility and potentially unachievable to address this as there was not enough money in the system.
The Forum asked Councillor Barnard to comment on how much pressure could be put to the DfE to draw attention to the local problem. Councillor Barnard explained that there was a general recognition nationally that SEND budgets were under pressure. Councillor Barnard would caution being careful and advised that the Forum would need to ensure it had got “all its ducks in a row” before raising specific points. Councillor Barnard would therefore advise an approach whereby the work of the Sub Group was highlighted and then evidence that there was a shortfall of funding the proposed programme for change. Councillor Barnard expressed willingness to construct a letter to that effect.
The Forum asked Councillor Barnard whether he was lending the Council’s voice to the national overview. Councillor Barnard replied that he intended to directly engage with the Director, Kashif Nawaz and the MP to make that point very clearly.
The Forum discussed how the above points would affect the proposed agreement “that there are appropriate arrangements in place for the education of pupils with SEN”. Councillor Barnard expressed that the Council and the Forum is doing what it can do but acknowledges that there was a need to be more efficient with resources.
RESOLVED, after considering the HNB budget proposals from the council to AGREE that:
1. the Executive Member:
i. sets the total initial Dedicated Schools Grant funded budget at £17.008m; it incorporates the changes set out in the supporting information and relevant budgets are therefore updated to those summarised in Annex 4 of the report;
ii. notes the £1.777 budget gap that will need to be managed through a further change programme with the HNB sub-group; and
iii. approves a Minimum Funding Guarantee for Kennel Lane Special school of plus 1.84%, the same amount as for mainstream schools (paragraph 6.10); and
2. there are appropriate financial arrangements in place for:
i. arrangements for pupils with special educational needs, in particular the places to be commissioned by the local authority and schools and the arrangements for paying top-up funding; and
ii. arrangements for use of pupil referral units and the education of children otherwise than at school, in particular the places to be commissioned by the local authority and schools and the arrangements for paying top-up funding.
Forum noted that work needed to continue to ensure appropriate educational provision for students with special educational needs through the work of the HNB sub-group.