Agenda and minutes

Gloucestershire Schools Forum - Thursday 11 January 2024 2.00 pm

Venue: Council Chamber - Shire Hall, Gloucester. View directions

Contact: Joanne Bolton - 01452 324197 

Items
No. Item

1.

Declarations of Interest

Members of the Forum must declare an interest in any agenda item where the outcome may give them a direct pecuniary advantage or avoid a disadvantage.  A form is available at the back of the meeting room.

Minutes:

No declarations of interest were made.

2.

Public Questions

To receive any public questions.  Questions can be asked on the day or sent to the Clerk before the meeting.  A written answer will be provided if questions are received 3 clear working days before the date of the meeting.  The Chair will advise timescale for any questions asked on the day of the meeting or received less than 3 working days before the meeting.

Minutes:

No public questions had been received.

3.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 146 KB

To agree the minutes of the meeting held on 22 November 2023 and note actions.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The minutes of the previous meeting held on the 22nd November 2023, were approved as a correct record.

4.

Gloucestershire County Council Budget Consultation 2024/25 pdf icon PDF 330 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

4.1      The Finance Business Partner gave an overview of the County Council budget proposals and provided details on the specific budget information relating to Children and Families.  (For information: a copy of the presentation sides covering each agenda item has been uploaded to the Council’s website.)

 

4.2      The Head of Education Strategy and Development pointed out that even though there was substantial pressure on various elements of the budget, a significant investment would be made in the Education Planning Service in regard to casework, to improve the timeliness of support and to enhance the local authority’s ability to manage the rising number of Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) in the system.

 

4.3      He also pointed out that whilst the Council had commissioned external support (EDGE) to work with the Council to implement a service wide review of SEND transport due to the increasing cost pressures in the Home to School Transport budget, this would not involve  making any changes to the policy or reducing access to transport.  The review would be focussed on improving the efficiencies of multiple occupancy transport routes and moving away from solo transport.

 

4.4      The Forum noted the report.

 

4.5      The Forum was informed that the budget and the feedback from the consultation would be considered at the 31st January Cabinet meeting, and the recommended draft budget would be discussed and agreed at the Full Council meeting on the 21st February 2024.

5.

Dedicated Schools Grant 2024/25 pdf icon PDF 388 KB

Minutes:

5.1      The Head of Education Strategy and Development presented the report on the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) for 2024/25.

 

5.2      He reported that the final census update for the 2024/25 DSG announced on 19 December 2023 had, compared to November reporting, increased the Schools Block allocation by £4.45M, High Needs Block by £409K and Central Services Block by £23k. 

 

5.3      The 2024/25 DSG totalled £644.898M.  This represented an increase in funding of £40.039M (6.6%) from the current 2023/24 DSG and Mainstream Schools Additional Grant total.  Compared to 2023/24, the Schools Block had increased by 2.8%, High Needs 3.8%, Central Services 4.7% and Early Years 61.4% (this included funding for the expanded childcare offer for eligible children aged two and under).

 

5.4      The Head of Education Strategy and Development informed members that the breakdown on the budget for the Central School Services block allocation had not been provided as information on the local authority copyright licence fees, which were a significant cost, would usually have been announced in December, but this year the DfE were still in negotiations for new agreements with some of the copyright management organisations.  He was slightly concerned that as negotiations were still on-going there could be an increase in costs.   A budget breakdown for the proposed use of the £3.221M Central School Services block would therefore be presented to the Forum once the 2024/25 copyright fee for local authorities had been announced by the DfE.

 

5.5      The Head of Education Strategy and Development explained that at previous Forum meetings he had raised a concern that the final Schools block allocation may not enable the full delivery of the National Funding Formula (NFF).  However, he was pleased to report that after accounting for the previously agreed growth fund of £0.931M, the funds allocated in the DSG Schools block settlement were enough to allow each formula factor rate, the minimum funding levels to be implemented 100% at the NFF level; and for the Minimum Funding Guarantee to be set at the same +0.5% level as the funding floor within the NFF. 

 

5.6      This left a balance of £0.611M in the 2024/25 Schools block to be used, as previously agreed at the September 2023 Forum meeting, to support the continued funding of the targeted support High Needs model (currently 1 in 30).

 

5.7      The Head of Education Strategy and Development informed members that some local authorities were in the position of not being able to deliver their funding formula in full due to a shortfall in their 2024/25 Schools block funding.  

 

5.8      Members were informed that it was not advisable to pass through the surplus in the Schools block to schools, through the funding formula; this was because it could not be distributed evenly amongst schools.  Also, if the surplus was passed through into the formula it would then be locked in for the following year as part of the MFG calculations which protected schools from losing funding, meaning that potentially, depending on the Schools block allocation in 2025/26,  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.

6.

Early Years Funding pdf icon PDF 242 KB

Minutes:

6.1      The Head of Early Years presented a report which set out the context in Gloucestershire, the proposed hourly rates for 2024/25 and provided options for how the percentage retained by the local authority could be best used.  The report also provided an overview of the Early Years and childcare reforms announced in the Spring budget.

 

6.2      Members were informed that the DSG Early Years block funding was calculated using the numbers from the claims submitted in the January 2023 census for the existing offer multiplied by a nationally set hourly rate.  The hourly rates for 2024/25 in Gloucestershire were: £5.47 for three- and four-year-olds; £7.60 for two-year-olds and from September 2024 £10.33 for under 2s.  For the extended offer, the DfE had estimated what the take-up numbers would be, but these would be adjusted for the actual take-up on a termly basis.  Gloucestershire’s hourly rates were slightly lower than the national average, this was due to there being no local authority maintained nurseries in the county and therefore no requirement for qualified teachers within Gloucestershire’s Early Years settings.  Gloucestershire’s business rates were also lower than the national average. 

 

6.3      The Head of Early Years reported that locally 67.8% of pupils attained a good level of development compared to national 67.2%.  Attainment gaps for children eligible for free school meals, children with SEND and children from minority communities had significantly reduced but remained higher than the England average.

 

6.4      The fragility of the Early Years infrastructure had been further impacted by the long-term effects of the Covid pandemic and the on-going cost of living crisis.  Rising costs and the low hourly childcare rate have led to nurseries struggling to recruit and retain staff and to ensure long-term sustainability.  Locally, there had been a significant increase in providers closing or reporting that they are at risk of closure.

 

6.5      The Head of Early Years explained that Gloucestershire’s Childcare Sufficiency and Assessment (2023) had concluded that there was sufficient provision to meet the needs of children requiring childcare in most parts of the county, with most of the provision of good or outstanding quality.  Two new settings would be opening - one in Dursley and one in Stroud, both areas had been identified as needing additional Early Years places.  Gloucestershire’s sufficiency would be further challenged following the implementation of the expansion of the funded childcare offer commencing in April 2024.  This was coming at a time when the sector was already struggling to provide for the children who were currently eligible.

 

6.6      The Forum was informed that there was a degree of frustration within the sector that the reforms were largely focussed on childcare to enable parents to return to employment, and less focussed on the value of high-quality early education.  The challenge was trying to ensure that there was not only a sufficiency of places, but that the places all offered high-quality early education that benefitted children.

 

6.7      It was reported that the Government’s ambition was that by 2026, all parents  ...  view the full minutes text for item 6.

7.

High Needs pdf icon PDF 959 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

7.1      The Head of Education Strategy and Development presented a report which provided an update on the High Needs Budget for 2024/25, the High Needs financial forecast for 2023/24, and the current numbers of Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs)

and permanent exclusion rates.

 

7.2      Forum members noted the High Needs funding formula allocation of £96.810M for 2024/25. 

 

7.3      The Head of Education Strategy and Development reported that overall, the 2024/25 High Needs Block of the DSG had been allocated an additional £3.578M (3.8%).  For comparison purposes in 2023/24 the High Needs Block of the DSG was allocated an additional £8.782M (10.4%), in 2022/23 £9.957M (13.47%) and in 2021/22 £8.246M (12.4%).  He pointed out that this clearly demonstrated there had been a drop-off in additional funding for High Needs which was surprising given the context around High Needs funding nationally. 

 

7.4      He emphasised that given the on-going significant funding pressures in the High Needs block and the current budget deficit, the allocation for 2024/25 would be problematic.  The Forum would receive details on the proposed High Needs 2024/25 budget at the March meeting; consideration would need to be given to the amount of inflationary increases to be made, for example to top-up funding for special schools.  He made members aware that even a reasonable increase would likely absorb a large proportion of the additional 2024/25 High Needs funding. 

 

7.5      The Head of Education Strategy and Development explained that the level of funding Gloucestershire received and the overall inequity of High Needs funding was a concern.  He emphasised that the key issue with the High Needs funding formula was that the historic spend factor was still a significant element of the formula which was preventing Gloucestershire from receiving an equitable funding allocation. 

 

7.6      He presented information which displayed how Gloucestershire compared to a broadly comparable local authority in terms of the population factor.  It was clear that the historic spend factor and the funding floor allocation provided a significant increase to the funding the comparable local authority received.  The widely held view was that a fully functioning High Needs formula should not need to operate using historic spend and protection factors.  Until such time as the High Needs formula was reviewed and the impact of historic funding levels reduced, this inequity would remain in the system.  He was hopeful that there would be a full review of the funding formula by government within the next 12-18 months.  

 

7.7      It was reported that since November 2023, forecasts had increased expected spend in High Needs by £627k.  Members were informed of the key changes.  This meant that the local authority was currently forecasting to exceed the planned budget spend by £3.081M, which was £15.692M over the funding allocated through the High Needs block for 2023/24.  This would increase the total DSG deficit to over £44M. 

 

7.8      The Forum noted the current High Needs forecast expenditure of £108.924M for 2023/24.

 

7.9      The Head of Education Strategy and Development reported that the local authority, as  ...  view the full minutes text for item 7.

8.

F40

Minutes:

8.1      The Head of Education Strategy and Development gave an update on recent f40 Group activities.  He reported that today, in the House of Commons, the f40 Group would be facilitating a debate on challenges within the SEND system.  He was aware that the debate had received a huge amount of interest with 28 MPs due to speak.  This was an important part of the work of the f40 Group in making sure there was a greater understanding within government of the issues around SEND.

 

8.2      On the 9th January 2024, the f40 Group had presented evidence to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for SEND and Disabilities, around the importance of investment in early identification and support for SEND.  He presented a series of slides from the event and gave an overview of the f40 Group’s core messages.  He reported that:

 

Ø    England was behind competitor nations on funding education.

Ø    Too many education and service budgets were under pressure, impacting on the quality of early intervention and support for children and young people with SEND.   Additional funding, resources, training and a coherent strategy needed to be in place to ensure intervention and support was provided at the earliest opportunity to reduce higher need later on.

Ø    There had been a significant increase in spend in Early Years, nationally, over the past 20 years through the extension of free entitlement.  However, whilst the extension was positive, the funding level remained too low.  There needed to be less focus on expansion and more focus on high quality provision for those that needed it the most.

Ø    Between 2010/11 and 2019/20 official education spending fell by over 15% in real terms.  Since then, it had started to rise again but in 2022/23 remained 12% below the levels in 2010/11.  The 2024/25 funding allocation was a backwards move again towards a real-term cuts situation.  Further Investment in mainstream education was needed to strengthen the inclusion and universal offer.

Ø    Ofsted research had shown that 80% of primary headteachers and 72% of secondary headteachers made changes to support provided to pupils with SEND due to financial pressure.  Investment in mainstream education was needed to enable the delivery of a high-quality inclusive education and to reduce the numbers of children needing to access specialist provision.

Ø    The f40 Group and other organisations believed that based on demand and inflation from 2015 - 2023, £4.6bn was needed for SEND funding over that period.  As a consequence of the funding not keeping pace with the level of demand, it was expected that the national High Needs deficit would be at £3.6bn by March 2025.  Around two thirds of local authorities were in DfE intervention programmes (Safety Valve and Delivering Better Value).

Ø    Significant investment in High Needs funding was needed with a full review of the formula, and consideration of how early intervention funding could be ringfenced.

Ø    Cuts and pressures to local and wider multi-agency services created barriers to early intervention. 

Ø    In conclusion, a coherent strategy  ...  view the full minutes text for item 8.

9.

Schools Forum Workplan pdf icon PDF 134 KB

Minutes:

9.1      The Head of Education Strategy and Development explained that an additional meeting had been arranged to take place on the 18th March 2024.  Officers would look at whether a Forum meeting in March needed to be factored into the workplan long-term. 

 

9.2      Members noted the Forum’s key priorities and Workplan for 2024.

10.

Date of Next Meeting

The next meeting of the Schools Forum will take place on Monday 18 March 2024 at 2:00pm-4:00pm.  The meeting will be held remotely via Teams.

Minutes:

The Forum noted that the next meeting would take place on Monday 18th March 2024 at 2:00pm.  The meeting would be held remotely.