25.1 Philip Haslett, Head of Education Strategy and Development, informed members of the forecast financial performance of the High Needs block in 2021/22. He explained that there was a worsening picture for the High Needs block this year. The key variance, £532,000, was within the High Needs unallocated budget line. The variance was comprised of a significant adjustment of £282,000 in the import/export calculation and a £250,000 adjustment for the mainstream top-up budgets, to support additional therapies and bespoke SEN packages. The cost of therapies and bespoke packages was not an additional cost, but should have been included in the initial budget planning.
25.2 The Forum was informed that there had been a rise in the number of children with an EHCP moving into further education and college placements, that had resulted in a forecast overspend of £172,000. Additional post-16 opportunities had resulted in a reduction in the use of independent post-16 providers, saving around £200,000 on 20 places. That had helped create a forecast underspend in the Independent Special Schools budget of £51,900.
25.3 There had been a rise in primary and secondary mainstream forecasts, £69,000 and £96,000 respectively. It was directly linked to a rise in excess of the historic trends, in the number of new EHCPs.
25.4 The Head of Education Strategy and Development explained that as a result of the adjustments outlined above, the expected annual overspend in High Needs had moved from £3,573,300 to £4,105,300. However, this was an improvement of over £1M on the overspend in 2020/21.
25.5 The Forum received details on the import and export adjustment. It was explained that Gloucestershire was a net exporter. That meant the number of Gloucestershire high needs pupils that other areas took in (exports) was above the number of every high needs pupil that Gloucestershire took in from another area (imports). A deduction of £1,140,000 was made from Gloucestershire’s 2021/22 High Needs funding block, compared to £858,000 in 2020/21. A difference of -£282,000. Initial analysis by the LA had suggested that the increase was linked to the increase in the number of children with an EHCP moving into further education and college placements. However, the Gloucestershire Parent Carer Forum representative on the Forum reported that many Gloucestershire families were experiencing difficulties in finding special school provision in the county due to a lack of places and places that were suitable, and that it was not solely related to post-16 places.
25.6 The Head of Education Strategy and Development, agreed that he would provide Forum members with a further breakdown of the budget, to show the cost of special school placements per pupil in the county, and the cost of out of county independent special schools placements per pupil. It was also agreed that information on the Home to School Transport costs for children travelling to special schools in county, and independent special schools out of county, would be provided to the Forum.
ACTION: Head of Education Strategy and Development
25.7 The Forum noted the 2021/22 High Needs forecast and the variance to budget.
25.8 The Head of Education Strategy and Development explained that the growth trend for EHCPs was continuing as the numbers were rising. The period from January 2020 to January 2021 saw an increase of 420 EHCPs, compared to the 350 budgeted for. On average the cost of an EHCP plan had now risen to £20,000. Officers were working through the details and impact of the growth to better understand the spike in numbers. He warned that if the rise was sustained then it would impact on the ability to set a balanced budget within the 5-year High Needs plan. The Joint Additional Needs and High Needs Strategies remained focussed on enabling earlier intervention through a long term sustainable model to support a reduction in the rise of EHCPs. The 5-year plan was being updated to reflect the current trends in EHCP growth and would be presented at the 11 November Schools Forum meeting.
25.9 The Head of Education Strategy and Development explained that earlier intervention was not a panacea; and the Forum acknowledged that there remained a need for continued investment in High Needs from central government to deal with the substantial growth in the complexity of need coming into the system. It was noted that the financial year 2022/23 was the final year of the 3-year High Needs additional funding package which was announced by the government in the Autumn 2019. It was hoped that the continuation of additional investment in High Needs funding would be announced in the government’s October Spending Review.
25.10 The Forum was informed that the new banded funding model was being finalised ready for a trial implementation with a small cohort of schools in January 2022. The descriptors that supported the new banding system had received feedback from all key stakeholders. The descriptors, provision maps and proposed funding levels would be brought to the next Schools Forum meeting in November for review and sign off.
25.11 The Head of Education Strategy and Development reported that the local authority was looking to develop the special school capacity to meet the rising levels of need. Based on the current trends approximately 100 more special school places per year would be needed in the county. There were a number of challenges involved in building new special schools, the key one being the limited capital funding available, and therefore the LA was looking at increasing capacity in the existing special schools. He would be working with the Gloucestershire Association of Special School Headteachers, to look at where those extra places could be accommodated.