Agenda item

High Needs


6.1      The Head of Education Strategy and Development gave a presentation on the 2020/21 High Needs forecast, the key funding drivers for High Needs, and an update on the national picture.


6.2      He reported that there had been a number of movements in the reporting period, which were outlined in the report.  One of the key movements was the use of independent school places from September 2020 onwards, it included 2 highly complex residential placements starting in September and the need for 10 additional independent school placements between September and the new year.  Consequently, there was now a forecast overspend of £204,000 on the independent school budget.


6.3      Overall the December financial forecast for the 2020/21 High Needs budget was broadly in-line with the planned year end deficit budget.  The Head of Education and Strategy explained that this demonstrated that there was now a greater understanding of the level of need coming into the system and the growth trends, enabling more control of the budget and accurate forecasting.   


6.4      The Forum was informed that the key drivers of the overspend continued to be the number of Education Heath and Care Plans (EHCP) in the system, and the rate of permanent exclusions.  As at 1 December 2020 there were 4,284 active EHCPs, which was a rise of 202 since August 2020.  The number of new requests for EHCPs continued to rise, and the local authority was reviewing the data to determine whether the rise was a consequence of the impact of Covid-19.  Once the analysis was complete it would be shared with the Forum. 

ACTION: The Head of Education Strategy and Development.


6.5      The Head of Education Strategy and Development reported that a further spike in the number of new requests for ECHPs was anticipated over the next 12 months, due to the rising level of need in the system resulting from a further national lockdown. The rates of permanent exclusion had remained broadly in-line with the previous year - a total of 23 children and young people had been permanently excluded from schools this academic year, compared to 21 in the same period in 2019/20. 


6.6      The Head of Education Strategy and Development explained that the pressure on High Needs budgets continued to cause concern in local authorities across the country. The Society of County Treasurers (SCT) and the F40 group had recently surveyed members to get an up to date picture.  The Forum considered a summary report from the SCT, which outlined that in terms of the cumulative High Needs deficits; by the end of 2020-21 forecasts from the 32 that responded showed: 13 members with deficits between £0M and £10M; 9 members with deficits between £10M and £20M; 1 with a deficit in the £20millions and another just over £30M; and 3 with deficits between £40M and £50M.  Gloucestershire was positioned in the second group of 9 members with a deficit of between £10M and £20M. The local authority had reached out to find out which local authorities had no deficit or a very low position to understand the context and how they had maintained that position. Officers hoped to be able to provide more information on this at the next Schools Forum meeting in June 2021.

ACTION: The Head of Education Strategy and Development.


6.7      The Head of Education Strategy and Development shared with the Forum emerging data on the national picture of High Needs deficit.  The Forum noted the two bar charts attached at Annex A to the High Needs report, one chart showed the 2017-18 to 2020-21 estimated year end balance of the High Needs block across a number of local authorities.  The second chart showed the 2020-21 estimated deficit as a proportion of the High Needs block funding, which provided a clearer picture of how the local authorities were managing their High Needs budget.  The Head of Education Strategy and Development explained that this information showed that Gloucestershire’s High Needs deficit as a proportion of the budget overall was not as significant as many of the other local authorities - there were some local authorities that had a deficit in excess of their overall High Needs budget.


6.8      The Head of Education Strategy and Development explained that the inequity of High Needs funding was a concern.  He presented an example of a comparison of between Gloucestershire and Buckinghamshire, despite both local authorities having a similar pupil and school population, there was a significant disparity between how much High Needs funding each local authority received - Buckinghamshire received a total of £25M more High Needs block funding than Gloucestershire. 


6.9      A member commented that she was aware that there was a different structure of high needs provision within Buckinghamshire compared to Gloucestershire, and added that it would be valuable to see comparisons of High Needs block funding between Gloucestershire and other local authorities, particularly those that did not have a historical track record of developing the infrastructure for High Needs provision.  The Head of Education Strategy and Development explained that a significant proportion of High Needs block funding was based on historic spend at a moment in time, the High Needs formula had then locked in the inequity in how local authorities were funded.  This would explain why Buckinghamshire which had a similar pupil and school population to Gloucestershire, received significantly more per pupil funding.  It was therefore recognised that whilst high needs recovery for many local authorities was underpinned by a need for central government to provide sufficient funding, the issue of how it was apportioned to local authorities also needed to be addressed, particularly the heavy dependence on historic funding.  It was noted that the F40 group would be undertaking a more detailed analysis of High Needs funding, and the group aimed to involve a larger percentage of the local authorities, to gain clearer picture.  The analysis would help to inform the debate with central government around how High Needs funding should move forward nationally. The analysis would be shared with the Forum once complete. 

ACTION: The Head of Education Strategy and Development.


6.10    The Forum was informed that an update would be provided at the June Forum meeting, once the consultation exercise with schools was complete, on the plans for  moving forward with the three areas that had been previously identified for further potential savings to be made.  The three areas were: 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.


6.11    In response to a question, the Head of Education Strategy and Development explained that the authority had a 5-year recovery plan focussed on transformation work, particularly earlier intervention.  However, he emphasised that whilst the local authority now had a better understanding of the budget, and despite the activities under the Joint Additional Needs and High Needs Transformation Programme moving forward, the authority was not at a point of being able to recover the High Needs block deficit position of £14.5M, particularly when taking into account the financial impact of Covid-19.  It was also likely that a similar budget deficit would be set for 2022/23.  It was recognised that the position would remain in future years unless there was a significant change to the funding system so that government funding matched the increased levels of need in the system.


6.12    The Forum was informed of the developments taking place nationally -  the report on the outcome of the DfE’s SEND review was due to be published in the Spring Term 2021, and the report on the DfE's review of the High Needs Formula and notional SEN Funding was due to be published in 2021.  The outcome of the reviews were eagerly awaited as they should set out how the government planned to fund High Needs moving into the future.  The Forum would be informed of any government announcements.


6.13    In response to a question, the Head of Education Strategy explained that whilst the 1 in 40 model would need to continue in 2021/22, he hoped that in future years through the implementation of national changes, resulting from  DfE’s reviews of SEND and High Needs funding, that the  local authority would be in the position whereby funding for high needs would no longer need to be subsidised in that way.    

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