39.1 Stewart King, Lead Commissioner for Education and Skills, presented the report which provided an update on the High Needs Programme, and the implications of the proposed National Funding Formula for High Needs.
39.2 The Forum was informed that the Government had announced that there would be no changes to the proposed National Funding Formula for High Needs. However, in line with the NFF for schools, every local authority would receive a 0.5% increase per head in 2018/19 and a further 0.5% per head in the 2019/20 over the 2017/18 baseline.
39.3 As a result, Gloucestershire’s High Needs Block would increase by 0.91% in 2018/19 and a further 0.47% in 2019/20. Whilst the Forum welcomed the additional funding for the two years, members acknowledged that it still represented a real term reduction of around 2.5% before allowing for population increases.
39.4 Officers explained that budget reserves would be used to cover the overspend in the High Needs Block for 2017/18. The Forum noted that other authorities were struggling to contain their spending on High Needs, with a number running into a significant deficit, and/or having to take emergency measures. Gloucestershire’s position meant that it could take a more measured approach, although the budget remained precarious.
39.5 The Forum noted that the areas of particular concern in High Needs were Education Health Care Plan (EHCP) top-ups in primary schools, and placements in independent special schools. Members were informed that the DfE had allocated Gloucestershire £1.9M to develop more in-county complex need places. At present there were only 70 specialist places attached to mainstream schools in the county, a figure which was much lower than in other comparable authorities.
39.6 In response to concerns raised about EHCPs ceasing in Early Years, officers explained that Early Years pupils would still obtain the support they needed, but without parents/carers needing to seek an EHCP.
39.7 The Forum received a verbal update on the High Needs project plan; the initial priorities had been Alternative Provision and exclusions, and engaging with schools on the inclusion issues. It was reported that focus would be on Post 16 next, where additional capacity would be sought. Officers explained that the current costs of Post 16 were out of line with the comparator group.
39.8 John Reilly, Specialist Adviser, gave an update on Restorative Practice. He read out a statement from the Headteacher at Tewkesbury School, where the approach had been implemented as part of the GCC pilot last year. In his statement the headteacher emphasised the positive effect the approach was having on both staff and pupils. The Forum was pleased to hear that the roll-out of the Restorative Practice approach at Tewkesbury School had progressed well and had good prospects of a positive impact on attendance and exclusions.
39.9 The Forum subsequently agreed the investment proposal for Restorative Practice, which would enable the programme to be expanded to other schools. The Forum noted that proposals for the other priority areas would be submitted to future Forum meetings.
39.10 The Specialist Adviser, informed the Forum that the Alternative Provision Schools Management Committee had agreed to disband. A new governance model would be in place from January 2018 with a management committee for each of the schools. The focus of the committee would be on improving the quality of provision, and meeting the needs of each individual pupil. Volunteer representatives from local schools were being actively sought.
39.11 The Forum considered a detailed report on exclusions which provided an analysis of the findings of the permanent and fixed period exclusions in Gloucestershire schools during the 2016/17 academic year. It was reported that Gloucestershire was the highest permanent excluding local authority when compared with its statistical neighbours, and was one of the highest nationally. The number of permanent exclusions was continuing to rise (there was a 2% increase in 2016/17 compared to 2015/16). The Forum was pleased to note that the County Council had set up a Scrutiny Task Group on exclusions which would begin its deliberations in November.
39.12 The Forum noted the progress of the High Needs Programme.