Agenda item

High Needs


58.1    Philip Haslett, Head of Education Strategy and Development, gave a presentation on the High Needs budget. He reminded members that at the June Forum meeting it was forecast that the High Needs budget in 2020/21 would overspend by £5,449.200 against the High Needs funding allocation of £67,253,100.  He explained that the August forecast was currently showing a £306,700 reduction in expenditure compared to budget.  A significant element of this was due to reduced costs of Alternative Provision as a consequence of no permanent exclusions during the summer term when schools were closed to the majority of children.


58.2    He emphasised the importance of accurate budget forecasting.  He indicated that whilst the budget was currently showing a reduction in expenditure compared to budget, this should be treated with a degree of caution, as there would likely be an increase in expenditure in September/October as pupils returned to school.  However, the current indications were that the expenditure would align closely to the planned deficit budget. This demonstrated a good understanding of the trends, enabling accurate forecasting, and the development of strategies to address those key drivers of the overspend.


58.3    It was reported that the key driver of the overspend was the number of Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs), that had continued to rise as forecast.  Whilst there was an initial slowing of applications and the process during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, assessments had continued to be received and there were currently 253 open assessments in progress.  Officers advised the Forum that those levels were exceptionally higher than forecast and there could be a future impact on the forecast for both special school and independent special school budgets. 


58.4    There were indications that there could be a marked increase in need concerning children with Social Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) needs in primary schools, as primary headteachers were reporting that those children in particular were struggling to settle back into school.  Consequently, it was suggested that in the near future, consideration may need to be given to increasing the number of special school places for primary age children with SEMH needs.


58.5    The Head of Education Strategy and Development acknowledged that the full impact of the Covid-19 pandemic was not yet know, and he confirmed that trends would be monitored carefully over the next few months.  He explained that the aim was to avoid increasing the number of EHCPs in the system to address what would hopefully be a short-term impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.  Other more effective and timely solutions would be looked at to support children transitioning back to school, rather than locking into long-term statutory plans.


58.6    The Head of Education Strategy and Development informed the Forum that an additional £7.515M of High Needs funding for 2021/22 was broadly in line with the additional funding received for the 2020/21 budget, and this did provide confidence of a similar uplift in 2022/23. He explained that just over £1M of the increase in funding was to replace the Teachers Pay and Pension grants, which were now part of the Dedicated Schools Grant allocation. He indicated that he was confident that with the continued rise in funding and the expected savings from the High Needs programme this would go a long way towards achieving a balanced in-year budget.  He emphasised however, that if the level of need continued to rise in line with the trends over the last three years, it would still not be enough to bring the budget to an in-year balance.


58.7    The Forum acknowledged that in order to further address the challenges, other areas of the High Needs budget would need to be considered within which further savings could be made.  The Head of Education and Strategy explained that the following three areas had been identified where savings could potentially be made: An adjustment to the diseconomy of scale model of funding available to special schools; a reduction in High Needs expenditure on the ‘1 in 40’ model to support schools with high numbers of EHCPs; and a reduction in direct expenditure on the Advisory Teacher Service.


58.8    He reported  that in regards to the diseconomy of scale model, responses received following  contact with the South West Local Authority network, to gain an understanding of models that they used to support smaller special schools, had indicated that they did not provide additional funding in that way.  Whilst he recognised the need to support smaller schools, a review and consultation was needed on the existing model to ensure that it was operating as intended.


58.9    The Head of Education Strategy and Development explained that the ‘1 in 40’ model was currently in operation to support schools with high levels of EHCPs to address the lack of a ‘needs-led’ NFF.  He advised that consideration was needed on finding a more effective funding model within the confines of the current funding formula, for schools which had a large proportion of pupils with additional needs. 


58.10  A member raised the point that when the formula moved from the ‘1 in 75’ model  to the ‘1 in 40’ model, schools were not fully aware of the significant financial implications this would have on their budget.  For secondary schools that had a high proportion of children with additional needs, the detrimental impact on their budget was significant. The Forum urged officers to ensure that consultation on any change to the current model, clearly laid out how any subsequent financial impact would be addressed to ensure there was still fairness contained within the funding allocation to schools that had a disproportionate number of children with EHCPs.  It was suggested that this should include looking at how to ensure schools were provided with funding to match the true cost of supporting a pupil with an EHCP.  The Head of Education and Strategy acknowledged that a better way forward was needed to ultimately develop a more efficient model.


58.11  The Forum was informed that the Advisory Teaching Service was currently fully funded from the High Needs block; the costs had been steadily rising over recent years, due to an increase in staff numbers to support the rising level of need in the system.  The intention was to explore and consult on options to reduce the cost of the service whilst protecting the quality and scope of the offer.  This could include options to move elements of the service to a traded offer.  Some members expressed concern that if the Advisory Teaching Service became a traded service then schools may not buy-in to that service.  


58.12  In response to a question, it was confirmed that the Advisory Teaching Service came under the ‘LA Services and staffing’ element of the High Needs block.  The overall budget for that element of the High Needs block was £3.9M - the Advisory Teaching Service expenditure was £1.9M.


58.13  The Forum agreed that all three areas should be considered as part of the exercise to look into whether potential savings could be made, and where a wider consultation with the school system would be valuable. The Forum would receive further detail on how the potential savings in those three areas could be achieved at its next meeting.

ACTION: Head of Education Strategy and Development.


58.14  At this juncture, the Chair was advised that the meeting was no longer quorate.  It was agreed that as the next two items on the agenda were for information purposes only, and did not require a decision, the meeting would continue.  

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