Report of the Section 151 Officer
The Senior Corporate Accountant summarised his report drawing members’ attention to the actual centrally retained budgets to fund Education Functions remaining at the same level as agreed in October 2018, detailed in paragraph 15. This is lower than anticipated in October due to the higher number of pupils on roll at maintained schools.
Moving on the individual school budgets, detailed in paragraphs 9-16 of the report. Attention was drawn to the 0.5% of Schools Block funding that has been transferred to the High Needs Block for 2019-20. This amounted to £2.4m.
Members asked what the impact of this was.
The National Funding Formula (NFF) included two transitional protections: a minimum per pupil funding level and a 1% uplift from the 2017-18 baseline. It was explained that when the NFF was introduced additional funds had been put into the formula. In order to ensure that individual schools’ budgets are affordable with the schools’ block DSG, gains had been capped at 0.7% except where the gain is greater than 15%. In this case the alternative gains cap had been applied and schools also receive 20% of the gains above the cap. This ensures that small schools do not receive very small cash increases.
The actual levy per pupil for 2019-20 had been set at £48.49. This is lower than anticipated in October (when members agreed to a levy of £51.78) due to the higher number of pupils on roll at maintained schools.
It was brought to the Schools Forum attention that within the schools’ block DSG allocation, there is an allocation for pupil growth. From 2019-20 this allocation is based upon actual growth in pupil numbers between Censuses rather than historical spend on growth funding. For 2019-20 there has been an increase in growth funding, which has been passed on to schools through the formula. However, growth in pupil numbers is likely to fluctuate and schools should be aware this will lead to fluctuations in the amount allocated through the formula in future years.
Moving on to Early Years Funding, with reference to the requirement in 2019-20 for local authorities to pass 95% of early years’ funding to providers, members asked if this figure of 5% was high given the number of maintained nurseries and asked if this 5% was still required.
It was explained that this covered the contract with Entrust for £1m in addition to SCC overheads. The Cabinet Member for Children and Young People stated that the local authority was keen to increase the money per hour and representations were being made regarding the disparity in rates between Staffordshire County Council and other local authorities. The amount is calculated on what we receive, rather than what we spend. The Cabinet Member for Children and Young People agreed to review the 5% and establish what it was being spent on.
Members asked how much of the contingency was being spent on Early Years. The Senior Corporate Accountant replied that he only had one year’s data for 2017-18, which showed an overall underspend for the Early Years Block.
Moving on to the High Needs Funding. The Senior Corporate Accountant explained that for 2019-20 every local authority will receive an underlying increase of at least 1.0% per head of 2-18 population. This is still a high-risk area. Special schools continue to be funded on a place plus top up basis, the value of which is £10,000. The Minimum Funding Guarantee continues to apply to special schools and prevents the top-up element of a schools’ budget from reducing by more than 1.5% based on the same pupil numbers and profile of needs. Special school gains have been capped by 0.7%. The post 16 high needs budgets for colleges and independent providers had been adjusted to reflect a transfer of post-16 provision between providers. All other allocations remained as at 2018-19.
With reference to Pupil Referral Units, members asked if the 328 places commissioned by the Council represented a reduction in numbers. Members expressed concern regarding the number of pupils that could safely be accommodated in schools and recognised the immense pressure that PRUs were under and the need for a sustainable funding plan. Members also asked what the plan was to support schools who wished to not permanently exclude pupils. The County Commissioner explained that the plan was to support schools in accessing early help. Members asked for clarification that this was part of the SEND action plan. The County Commissioner acknowledged the challenge facing schools but stated that if (PRU) provision was increased it would be filled. PRUs should be ‘short stay’ schools, but in Staffordshire we have a high number of permanently excluded pupils in PRUs that should be moved into other provision. This issue should be addressed as part of the inclusion agenda. Members expressed concern regarding the financial challenges facing PRUs.
RESOLVED – That:
a) The report be noted; and
b) A further report on the Early Years’ Funding expenditure be brought back to the Forum.