31.1 The Forum received a report outlining the implications of the government announcements on school funding for 2019/20. The Forum also received a report on High Needs which provided an update on the outcomes of the formal consultation and set out recommendations on the future of High Needs provision.
31.2 The Forum was informed that on 24 July 2018 the government had announced a series of increases to teachers’ pay from 1 September 2018. The government had stated that the award would be ‘fully funded’, with the first 1% covered within school budgets since the National Funding Formula (NFF) baseline was raised by 0.5% per pupil for all schools, and in 2018/19 and 2019/20 by a new teachers’ pay grant. However, there were still questions to be answered on how the grant would be allocated and what would happen from 2020/21. It was reported that between the Forum papers being issued and the meeting taking place, some further information on the allocation method had been released, showing that funding would be allocated on a per pupil basis with a minimum allocation based on 100 pupils for mainstream schools.
31.3 The Forum received information on the arrangements for the move to the NFF in 2019/20. There were no major surprises from previous government announcements on the formula, and the Forum noted the key changes set out in the report.
31.4 In summary, it was noted that the key changes were that the Minimum Funding Levels per pupil had increased to £3,500 for primary schools and to £4,800 for secondary schools. The Authority Proforma Tool now included the option to use a funding floor factor, and the option to use the alternative gains cap calculation. Both were used in the NFF, but were not available for local authorities to use in 2018/19. Their inclusion in 2019/20 would allow the Council to more closely match the NFF methodology in the 2019/20 formula.
31.5 The Forum noted the indicative overall 2019/20 Dedicated Schools Grant summary. The Forum also noted that the funds were £1.3M short of what was needed to allocate funds to schools using the NFF factor rates.
31.6 The Forum was informed that a new secondary school in Cheltenham was scheduled to open in September 2020 as part of the Balcarras Multi Academy Trust. The bid process required the Council to offer a guaranteed minimum funding level for 5 years and a start up grant of £75,000 from the growth fund in 2020/21.
31.7 The Forum discussed the future of High Needs. The Lead Commissioner for Education, Strategy and Development, stressed that the overspend in High Needs had continued to accelerate; consequently, the current position was that reserves would be exhausted by 31 March 2019 and the High Needs Block would be in deficit. He explained that the ESFA rules permit a transfer of up to 0.5% from the Schools Block to the High Needs Block with the approval of the Schools Forum, and following consultation with schools. Previously the Local Authority had not proposed a transfer from the Schools Block, however, now given the deteriorating budget position, this should be considered as an option.
31.8 The Forum had a wide-ranging debate on the strategy for High Needs funding. There was a strength of feeling amongst some Forum members against supporting a transfer of 0.5% (£1.75M) to the High Needs Block, as this would further reduce the funding allocation to each school when budgets were already severely squeezed. Members of the Forum expressed strong concerns about the adverse impact on schools and pupils, of schools not being allocated the funding they were expecting and had budgeted for.
31.9 The Forum recognised that the current way of working was not sustainable, and that the formal High Needs consultation focused on proposals for changes to improve the lives of children with additional needs, by using the current level of budget more effectively. The Forum discussed the primary partnership hubs proposal in particular Some Forum members indicated their support for the proposal; however, the Forum as a whole did not feel able to support a transfer from the Schools Block to fund the development given the level of anxiety about school budgets for 2019/20.
31.10 Some members also expressed the view that they were against a transfer being made from the Schools Block, on the basis that the deficit should remain within the single location of the High Needs Block, and not put school budgets at any more risk of a deficit position. It was also felt that the more schools tried to accommodate budget cuts by finding solutions, this could weaken the position in the campaign for fairer funding.
31.11 The Local Authority signalled a willingness to look for alternative ways of funding the hub model, given the level of support during the consultation, and the prospect it offered for both improving outcomes and reducing costs in the medium term.
31.12 Officers explained that overspending on the High Needs was a national issue, with many local authorities experiencing a significant High Needs Block deficit. The Forum was deeply concerned that there was not enough funding coming through from central government to support High Needs. The Forum recognised the importance of campaigning for increased High Needs funding such as through the work of F40 Group and the Worthless? Campaign, and the lobbying of MPs.
31.13 Officers outlined to the Forum the following options for the future of High Needs funding:
Ø To transfer 0.5% from the Schools Block, which would generate £1.75M to support the High Needs Block and pump prime the primary partnership hubs.
Ø To transfer 0.25% from the Schools Block which would generate £0.88m but not provide funding for the hubs.
Ø Not to transfer any funding from the Schools Block nor to provide hub funding, making reductions to mainstream top ups instead.
Ø As well as the options above, further savings would be needed to balance the High Needs Block for 2019/20. This would be by a change to the 1 in 75 rule (this rule compensates schools that attract a disproportion number of children with high needs), to 1 in 40, meaning that the number of schools qualifying for additional support from the High Needs Block would reduce significantly. In addition, efficiency savings on other High needs Budgets would be sought.
Ø Other areas to be consulted on, such as whether any shortfall in schools block funding should be recovered by a percentage reduction across all NFF factors including the minimum per pupil factor, or whether any NFF factors, such as the minimum per pupil should be exempt from the reduction resulting in higher reductions needed to the other factor rates.
31.14 In concluding the debate, the Forum agreed to defer its decision on the recommendations set out in the School Funding and the High Needs report, until the next Forum meeting on 15 November 2018. This would allow time for Forum members to give further consideration to the proposals.
31.15 The Forum noted that the Local Authority, would consult with schools first, on the options outlined above. The Forum agreed to consider the outcomes of the formal High Needs consultation, and the outcome of the Local Authority’s consultation with schools on the options above, at its next meeting on 15 November 2018, and make recommendations on school funding for 2019/20.