33.1 The Forum received an update on the work being done to transform the way in which Gloucestershire utilised High Needs funding to support inclusion and thus reduce rates of permanent exclusion, such as through the primary Local Inclusion Clusters (LINCs). The Schools Forum Working Group on Exclusions had considered the outline proposal, and on a whole, members of this Group were in agreement with the key objectives, but looked forward to receiving further details.
33.2 There was a degree of concern amongst Forum members about how the objectives would be achieved and the associated financial arrangements, and timeline of implementation. It was noted that further details would be considered by the Working Group at its next meeting on 27 November 2019, with an update to the Forum at its next meeting on 9 January 2020. A pilot project to test the new way of working would be rolled out in the spring of 2020.
33.3 In response to a question, Tim Browne, Director of Education, confirmed that home to school transport provision was funded by the County Council not the Dedicated Schools Grant. The Forum acknowledged that managed moves would be challenging in more rural areas due to the distances involved; officers accepted that there would need to be some flexibility within the home to school transport policy to counter this.
33.4 The Forum noted that there had been a significant decrease in the number of places being commissioned at Alternative Provision schools in the county. Elisa Entwistle, Alternative Provision representative, expressed strong concerns that due to the move towards no permanent primary exclusions, primary headteachers felt obliged to keep children in their schools, whom would otherwise have been allocated a place at an Alternative Provision school. She was also aware that some children were being allocated provision at a special school, whilst remaining on the roll of their home school. The Alternative Provision representative was concerned that the needs of those children were not being met appropriately, and stressed that any long-term decisions on the future of the new model for LINCs should not be made on a short-term ‘halo’. She emphasised that there would still need to be provision within the model which was sustainable and long-term and that could meet a child’s needs effectively.
33.5 In response, the Head of Education Strategy and Development, explained that a pilot project was being carried out, whereby pupils at risk of permanent exclusion were being allocated provision within a special school. By doing this the aim was to assess and understand the child’s needs within the special school setting and then for the child to transition back into a mainstream school with a plan in place for moving forward. A number of referrals for this type of provision were being received from primary headteachers. He explained that that if this pilot was successful then it would be expanded. In response to concerns over primary school headteachers holding pupils in their schools who would otherwise have been excluded, he explained that a survey would be undertaken to determine the position schools were in, he commented that he was keen to understand the data on this.
33.6 The Forum considered the mainstream EHCP top-up rates for 2020/21. There were concerns raised that by not increasing the EHCP top-up rates, more inclusive schools would be financially penalised. However, members acknowledged that given the current High Needs deficit, an increase to the mainstream EHCP top-up rates would at this stage be untenable. The Forum subsequently agreed that the top-up rates for EHCPs for 2020/21 would be maintained at the current rates.