13.1 Stewart King, The Lead Commissioner for Education, Strategy and Development, gave a presentation on the position of High Needs in the county.
13.2 He explained that the High Needs budget was in a precarious position, with a projected £1.8M overspend in 2017/18, and a forecast overspend of £0.516M at the end of 2018/19. Remaining DSG balances to support the High Needs budget were estimated £1.1M in 2018/19. However, there were major risk areas in the budget, particularly primary top-ups, independent schools, and Alternative Provision. A spreadsheet was tabled which set out the High Needs budget position at the start of 2018/19. (For Information: A copy of the High Needs presentation and the High Needs spreadsheet has been published on the Council’s website and is included in the signed copy of the minute book).
13.3 The Lead Commissioner for Education, Strategy, and Development, explained that the assumption was that movement between the funding blocks would cease to be an option beyond 2019/20. He reported that he was aware of at least four other local authorities that had had their requests to transfer funding to the High Needs block in 2018/19 refused by their School Forums, but had then subsequently received approval from the DfE through appeal.
13.4 The Forum was informed that most local authorities in the South West were exceeding their High Needs budget in 2017/18; in most areas the overspend was much greater than in Gloucestershire. Other local authorities were reviewing high needs spending and their banding rates, but did not appear to be undertaking whole-system changes. Officers explained that many authorities were relying on reducing top-ups, as an emergency measure, however this would have a negative impact on the children most in need of the provision and was not a route Gloucestershire would want to take. The Forum noted that as Gloucestershire was developing a whole new approach to High Needs there had been a lot of interest from other authorities in what this authority was doing.
13.5 The Forum was concerned to note that the number of primary permanent exclusions had risen from 14 at this stage in the 2016/17 academic year to 22 in 2017/18. Secondary permanent exclusions also remained at a high level, 58 to date in 2017/18. Gloucestershire was the highest permanent excluding authority in the South West. Members of the Forum acknowledged that the data which was presented on the impact of the Restorative Practice approach at Moat Primary School, and Tewkesbury Secondary School, demonstrated that it could have a quick impact on reducing fixed term and permanent exclusions, and a positive impact on wider issues such as attendance, and detentions. Officers confirmed that there were plans to roll the Restorative Practice approach out to other schools in Gloucestershire through a phased programme.
13.6 The Forum was informed that the cost of Alternative Provision was a major concern. Each of the three Alternative Provision schools in Gloucestershire had a high level of occupancy, and were significantly overspent in 2017/18, due to operational pressures.
13.7 The Lead Commissioner for Education, Strategy and Development, informed members that building on the outcome of the engagement process, an outline proposal for a locality-based model for primary schools had been developed. He added that through this model, the intention was that support would be available locally for children who in the past may have been permanently excluded. The local authority would commission support services to be at the centre of the model, linked to early help and Families First and other specialist services, creating a single point of contact for hubs located in primary schools around Gloucestershire. An outline idea for a remodelled Alternative Provision school/service was also presented. In both cases the models would need to be developed with schools and partners and other approaches had not been ruled out. Members of the Forum raised the issue of high home to school transport costs as a potential adverse consequence of the models. Forum members stressed the importance of specifying where the accountability for pastoral support and safeguarding provision rested within the models, to ensure this was made clear to providers.
13.8 In response to a question, the Lead Commissioner for Education, Strategy and Development, explained that if the decision was made to go ahead with the setting up of the new locality-based model for primary and a remodelled Alternative Provision, then implementation would be from September 2019. Elisa Entwistle, Alternative Provision Schools representative, requested that she and her colleagues be involved in the future discussions on the new models.
13.9 The Lead Commissioner, Education, Strategy and Development, informed members that the number of pupils deregistered, and electing for home education, so far, this academic year, was over 200. Of particular concern was the number of deregistered Year 11 pupils, which was the highest across all year groups at 40 pupils.
13.10 Officers stressed that the current trend in the number of Education Health, and Care Plans (EHCP) was unsustainable. The changes being proposed on the management of the EHCP process, and the plan to transition to a new model, were outlined to the Forum. The aim was for EHCPs to be the norm for children with more complex educational needs, alongside effective and flexible early intervention. Forum members emphasised the need to plan and manage the transition from the current way of working.
13.11 The Lead Commissioner for Education, Strategy and Development, informed members that feedback from parents, schools and other stakeholders, via the Briefing and Engagement survey, broadly indicated support on the ideas for the direction of High Needs in the future. Andrew Harris, Secondary Headteacher representative, confirmed that the Gloucestershire Association of Secondary Heads would be discussing the paper at its next meeting and would provide a response.
13.12 Whilst the Forum acknowledged that there would be some very complex issues to work through in developing the new approach, the Forum accepted that given the reduction in funding and increased demands, major changes were needed to create a model that worked better for children and schools and encouraged the local authority to continue the development work.
13.13 The Forum noted that formal consultation on the High Needs Strategic Plan would take place from May 2018.