The Schools Forum received a report from the Director of Children and Families relating to the High Needs Block.
It was explained that, for Staffordshire, the High Needs Block budget for 2022/23 would be £114.8m; an increase of £13.7m compared with 2021/22 (13.6%). It was made clear that none of this funding increase would be used to repay historical deficits. The Forum heard that the Council recognised the financial pressures schools across Staffordshire were facing and had increased funding this year for all state funded special schools, on a like for like basis, by a minimum of 2.5%.
It was explained that the forecast outturn for the 2022/23 High Needs Block was £6.0m overspent.
At the end of the last financial year the DSG reserve ‘deficit’ increased from £2m to £8.6m and would deepen further given the expected overspend in 2022/23. A ‘deficit management plan’ must now be brought forward.
Education Banding Tool (EBT)
The Schools Forum heard that, from 14th March 2022, the Local Authority went live with the tool across maintained, academy and independent mainstream providers and maintained and academy specialist providers to calculate the education element of the high needs top-up funding for Staffordshire children and young people with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).
It was explained that work with Imosphere, the provider of the EBT, was continuing to prove productive and they were providing support in understanding the impact of the implementation of the model.
Send Contract Management
At the meeting of Schools Forum in March 2022 an update on the contract management of independent and non-maintained placements was requested. The information set out in appendix 2 to the report indicated the full contractual agreements undertaken during the academic year 2020/ 2021, and the costs agreed for the agreement within the individual pupil/placement agreements (IPA).
It was summarised that during the academic year:
· 383 school placements had been agreed within the Independent Schools sector
· CYP requiring an IPA throughout the academic year has risen from 464 to 524
· the full contractual sum of £35,074,807 HNB funding was committed for the contractual placements.
In response to a question relating to the workstreams that are being put into place to reduce the growing deficit and the loss of money/children into the independent sector, and also in encouraging mainstream schools to become more inclusive, it was confirmed that it was a multi-faceted issue that needed a multi-faceted plan. There was a response to the Ofsted action plan that would review the strategy for special provision across the county within mainstream as well as special schooling. This would look to drive forward on an ambitious and evidence-based agenda that would increase the enhanced provision in mainstream schools. This was to try and avoid the capacity issues in special schools, which has resulted in children being placed in the independent sector rather than maintained schools. This work had already started, and strategy recommendations were due, as per the Ofsted requirement, in April 23.
Additional work included considering the decision-making process at panels, looking for opportunities to expand provision in our special schools, and working with our special schools to consider the “art of the possible” when considering additional provision. There had been several productive conversations with special schools relating to creatively expanding provision.
In response to a question relating to how District Hubs are being quality assured and what metrics are being used to judge how successful they are, it was confirmed that additional information would need to be provided, but the structure around the Hubs was considered to be good.
A question was raised relating to the personalised experience and the need of school’s to be increasingly inclusive at all times. It was felt that there was a disjunct between that agenda and the current Ofsted regime and the metrics schools are currently governed by. Forum members wanted to know if the Local Authority was engaged in these discussions. It was conformed that when the white and green papers were published one of the first discussions between the Local Authority and regional colleagues was around the tension between the two papers. The response to the green paper consultation highlighted this issue and these conversations continue to take place.
In response to a question asking whether the regulators ever seek representatives from schools and multi-academy trusts to engage in the conversations, it was confirmed that the opportunity wasn’t available but that the Local Authority shared schools’ information with the Regional Director.
Awareness of issues with Early Years was raised, specifically relating to pre-school parents who have advised that schools are only offering shortened timetables for children with additional needs. In response it was suggested that the issues of Covid were coming to fruition with regards the early development of children preparing for mainstream school. Discussions had taken place regarding the increased spend for Early Years Funding, and this had been justified because of the magnitude of need that was coming through. The issue may be here for 5–10 years, but it was being considered, it was featured in the Strategy for Special Provision and everything is being done to address the issues.
In response to a question asking if the vision was to create targeted or generic resource bases, it was explained that the intention was to move away from the notion of generic Special Schools. The Strategy would be co-produced with schools, parents, and young people. Boundaries would need to be determined in terms of resource-based provision which would be specialist by type of additional need. At the same time there was a need to increase capacity and upskill the mainstream school as teachers will inevitably come across children with similar needs in the future. This Piece of work would be commencing more readily in September.
In response to a question relating schools ability to meet need in a timely manner and to be able to see the broad landscape as it evolves so they can understand where resource bases are emerging, it was confirmed that timeliness of identification of need was part of a larger workstream that would look at education, health, and care pathway.
The costs of transporting children between resource bases was raised. It was suggested that there would be a need to ensure that resource bases were located where there was need. It was understood that there would be additional costs and part of the wider workstream remit was to model out what the provision would look like, how they were accessed, what the entry and exit criteria would be and the resourcing mechanism that would need to be in place to make it happen.
a. That the High Needs Block budget 2022/23 and latest forecast outturn be noted.
b. That the latest update on the roll out of a new Education Banding Tool be noted.
c. That the latest update on the SEND Contract Management programme be noted.