26.1 Philip Haslett, Head of Education Strategy and Development, introduced the report which provided an update on the year to date High Needs budget.
26.2 The Forum was informed that the High Needs Block remained in a deficit position, with a deficit carry forward of £2.88M from 2018/19 and an in-year forecast of £4.26M, total of £7.14M. The areas of significant overspend were being driven by a continued rise in Education Health and Care Plans (EHCP) which had resulted increased place costs for further education colleges; independent special schools; and special schools. Officers explained that by the Forum agreeing the change to the ‘1 in 75’ rule, to ‘1 in 40’ (this rule compensates schools that attract a disproportion number of children with high needs), the costs to the High Needs block had reduced by £2M (i.e. preventing an additional £2M being added to the total figure of in-year deficit for High Needs).
26.3 It was recognised that there has been a rise in complexity and depth of need in children and young people, which had increased the numbers of EHCPs and the associated costs. In addition, schools were less equipped to deal with increased need due to the reductions in budgets, and were therefore seeking funding via an EHCP. Officers outlined the intention to look at models to try to reduce the reliance on EHCPs to support children and young people with additional needs.
26.4 In response to a question, the Head of Education Strategy and Development explained that in order for the budget to become sustainable, costs to the High Needs block relating to EHCPs needed to reduce by £2-3 million. This represented an approximate 10-20% reduction in the number of EHCPs.
26.5 Tim Browne, Director of Education, stressed that there was not enough funding available to meet the level of need. Each EHCP cost approximately £6,000 (this figure related to the undertaking of the statutory process only). He added that better use needed to be made of the available resources, without getting locked into a restrictive statutory process. This would enable support to be tailored and apportioned earlier and more accurately.
26.6 There was some concern raised around the plans to reduce the number of EHCPs. However, there was also recognition that the plans to reduce the number of children with an ECHPs were founded on the development of a new model to make funding available to schools in a more accessible way, allowing for earlier intervention and support. There was recognition that if the new model was to be successful then the Early Help support provided by school and the LA team would need to be enhanced from the current way of working.
26.7 It was noted that in the new year, the Schools Forum Working Group’s focus would be on the improvement of the graduated pathway, and the EHCP process.
26.8 The Forum was informed that work being done to reduce exclusions had been effective. In 2018/19 the work of the inclusion service and the restorative practice team contributed towards an 18% reduction in permanent exclusions. Support and intervention from the inclusion service avoided around 80 permanent exclusions, which would have cost the High Needs budget approx. £1M. It was noted that the Schools Forum Working Group would be meeting in October and November 2019 to consider the development of new approaches to managing exclusions, with a view to running a pilot in the Spring Term.
26.9 It was reported that if the recently announced additional funding for education was apportioned in a similar way to the additional Government funding that was announced in December 2018, £200 million of funding would be retained by the DfE to support the free school programme and £500 million allocated to High Needs. If this was the case, Gloucestershire could expect to receive around £5 million for High Needs revenue. If all £700 million was allocated to High Heeds revenue, Gloucestershire could expect to receive around £7 million for revenue.
26.10 Officers emphasised the point that if the funding was received at either of those levels it would not be a panacea, but would bridge the gap. It would allow for respite to implement the High Needs Strategy, and would bring the budget back into balance. New models still needed to be developed, as the current way of working was not sustainable. Officers updated the Forum on the progress made against the key areas of activity in the High Needs Strategy, which were being delivered to reduce costs and improve the service available to children and young people.
26.11 The Forum noted the update.