66.1 Philip Haslett, Head of Education Strategy and Development presented a report, which provided an update on the financial forecast for the 2020/21 High Needs budget, and an update on the progress of the Joint Additional Need and High Needs Transformation Programme.
66.2 He reported that there had been a number of significant movements in the reporting period, this was primarily due to the transition work that took place in September and a subsequent reworking of the mainstream and special school forecasts.
66.3 The Head of Education Strategy and Development drew the Forum’s attention to the key reasons for the movements, which were detailed in the report. He explained that overall, the forecast had moved closer to the original budget set in June. During the last period it was forecast a £306,700 underspend against budget. This period had seen that reduce to forecast underspend against budget of £173,700. He advised however that this should be treated with a degree of caution, as the special schools had been commissioned to capacity, and increases were now being seen in the independent special schools element of the High Needs Block, due to a number of complex, high cost, joint funded placements.
66.4 The Forum was informed that the key driver of the overspend continued to be the number of Education Health and Care Plans (EHCP) in the system, which had continued to rise as forecast. As at 1 October 2020 there were 4,185 active EHCPs, which was a rise of 103 since August 2020. There had also been an increase of 28% in the number of requests for EHCPs, in the most recent reporting period, (in comparison to the same period the previous year). He warned members that increases in this area would add more pressure to the High Needs budget.
66.5 A member questioned whether action was being taken by the local authority to improve on the timescales involved with the processing of an EHCP. She explained that in her personal experience there were significant delays from the point of a child needing an EHCP, to issuing, and at the stage of every annual review thereafter. In response, the Head of Education Strategy and Development explained that the emerging data related specifically to new requests for EHCPs, and that the number of requests being processed within the statutory timescales (taking no more than 20 weeks from the date of the request until the plan was issued), was generally high and above the levels of other comparator local authorities. It was noted that the local authority would be reviewing the data to determine whether the rise was a consequence of the impact of Covid-19, and if so, whether more efficient solutions could provide support to children struggling to transition back to school, as opposed to locking into long-term statutory plans.
66.6 The Forum noted that officers would also be looking to determine whether the impact of Covid-19 was a factor in the significant rise in the number of permanent exclusions. Since the start of the new academic year there had been 18 permanent exclusions (there were 11 permanent exclusions in the same period in 2019/20).
66.7 Cllr Richard Boyles, Cabinet Member for Children’s Safeguarding and Early Years, queried whether the rise in the number of EHCP requests, could be attributed to a specific area or schools. In response, the Head of Education Strategy and Development explained that this was new emerging data that had yet to be fully reviewed; however, initial indications were that the new requests were spread out across the county. He confirmed that once the data had been reviewed he would circulate the results of the analysis to the Forum, and meet with the Cabinet Member.
ACTION: Head of Education Strategy and Development.
66.8 It was acknowledged that out of the total number of children and young people for whom the local authority maintained an EHCP, the number of males was strikingly higher in comparison to the number of females. Lyn Dance, Special School Headteacher representative, explained that she aware that this was a national trend and that comprehensive research had already been undertaken on the reasons behind that particular distribution. She agreed to signpost members to the relevant publications on the web.
ACTION: Lyn Dance/ Clerk to the Forum.
66.9 The Head of Education Strategy and Development provided an update on the three areas agreed at the September Forum meeting, where potential savings could be made within the High Needs budget. He reported that options on central in-year savings on the Advisory Teacher Service were being looked at and it was anticipated that the Forum would consider a report and recommendations on this at its meeting in June 2021. Officers would be meeting with the Gloucestershire Association of Special Schools Headteachers in late November to discuss the diseconomy of scale model, and the Forum would consider a report and recommendations at its meeting in January 2021. A Forum working group would be established to review options for the ‘1 in 40’ model following some early modelling work, and the Forum would then consider a report and recommendations on this at its meeting in June 2021.
66.10 The Forum received an update report on the completed and planned activity on each of the 6 projects in the Joint Additional Needs and High Needs Transformation Programme. The EHCP Spend Redesign project had completed its first key milestone and produced the proposed changes to the funding model for SEND. It was reported that the aim of the proposed approach was to simplify the provision of funding for children with SEND and provide access to support outside of the statutory EHCP process, which was focussed around the child’s needs.
66.11 The Forum considered the common banding system which would operate across the mainstream and specialist provision. The Head of Education Strategy and Development presented a diagram which showed a comparison between the existing approach and the proposed approach for next year. It was noted that the proposed system was now out for engagement. A member emphasised the importance of the local authority ensuring that headteachers and colleagues were made aware of the consultation at what was now the crucial developmental stage. It was confirmed that officers would be consulting with the headteacher associations with a view to setting up groups to gather feedback, talk through the process and answer questions. It was noted that feedback was being sought particularly on the descriptors which were the essential component in ensuring that the banding system could operate progressively and effectively. It was noted that the next step in the process would then be the design of the provision map against those descriptors, and this was an area that the Forum’s working group would also look at, before a report and recommendations were considered by the Forum at a future meeting.
66.12 In response to a question, the Head of Education and Strategy explained that whilst there was a rising level of need across the system, the local authority was not in position to afford any increase in High Needs expenditure by lowering the thresholds. Alternatively, the local authority was aiming to unlock the statutory process, so that additional funding and support could be accessed more efficiently for eligible children and young people outside of an EHCP. It was acknowledged that the quality and rigour involved in the assessment process for a MyPlan, MyPlan Plus and an EHCP, was critical to making sure that it was the right approach for each individual child or young person.