Agenda item

Early Years

Minutes:

14.1     Phil Haslett, Head of Education Strategy and Development, presented a report which set out the Early Years context in Gloucestershire, the proposed use of the Early Years Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) block for 2022/23 including the retained amount and the options for how best to use the surplus.

 

14.2     He reported that the Early Years block for 2022/23 was announced by the DfE in December 2021 and totalled £34.897 million.  The allocated hourly rate for 2022/23 was an increase of 21p per hour for two-year-olds to £5.65 per hour and 17p per hour for three and four-year-olds to £4.61 per hour.  In January 2022 the Schools Forum approved the proposal that the increases were added to the hourly rate passed to providers for both 2-year-olds and 3 and 4-year-olds.  It was also agreed at the January meeting that there would be a consultation with Early Years providers on a number of options (set out in Section 4 of the report) in respect of the Early Years’ formula including deprivation payments for 3 and 4-year-olds.

 

14.3     It was confirmed that the Early Years Forum had agreed to implement Option 1 for the distribution of the additional allocated increase of 17p per hour for 3 and 4-year-olds.  This had been communicated to the Early Years sector and would be applied from April 2022. 

 

14.4    The Head of Education Strategy and Development reported that the fragility of the Early Years infrastructure had been further impacted by the national pandemic and this continued to present challenges in relation to the sufficiency of places and quality of early education and childcare both locally and nationally.  An interim sufficiency assessment completed by the local authority in January 2022 had highlighted emerging sufficiency concerns in the Stroud and Dursley areas of the county and also highlighted the continued risks to provider sustainability due to a combination of cost and funding pressures.  He explained that the investment to support Early Years & Childcare sufficiency (£250k) would enable the local authority to continue its work with providers at risk of closure and maintain its duty to have a sufficient provision of good quality childcare available across the county.

 

14.5     The Forum received details on the proposal to commission a 12-month pilot of Early Years Specialist Assessment Provision for early years children with special educational needs.  Members were informed that due to the current pressure on the specialist places in the county, access to assessment provision was challenging.  The aim of the pilot was to determine whether by putting in place Early Years Specialist Assessment Provision, this would help to alleviate pressure and ensure children with special needs received support and assessment within the Early Years sector at the right time, avoiding any delays.

 

14.6     The Head of Education Strategy and Development reported that the possibility of transferring the underspend from the Early Years block to offset overspends in other parts of the DSG was considered. However, given that Early Years funding was low in Gloucestershire creating viability and sufficiency issues for parts of the sector, it was felt that utilising Early Years funding to support overspends would not be appropriate or equitable.

 

14.7     The Forum agreed that the total uncommitted Early Years carry forward balance of £1.479M be used as follows:

Ø    Retain £250k (17.8%) of the underspend to support Early Education &                               childcare sufficiency (capital and revenue).

Ø     Retain £200K (14.3%) to commission a 12-month pilot Early Years Specialist                    Assessment provision for early years children with special educational needs.

Ø     Allocate £950k (67.9%) to providers based on the full academic year hours in                   2020/21.

 

14.8      Gwyneth Keen, Early Years representative, on behalf of the Early Years sector, welcomed the decision to allocate £950k of the surplus to providers.  It was recognised that this injection of funding would help to alleviate the challenges that providers faced to deliver a quality provision for children in the county.

 

14.9      The Forum considered the use of the provisional Early Years DSG block 2022/23.  The Head of Education Strategy and Development reported that the proposal was for the budget for central costs to be allocated at the level circa £1.64 million.  This would continue to fund an element of Children and Family Centres, Early Years quality team and supporting overheads.

 

14.10    The Head of Education Strategy and Development explained that the commissioning of Children and Family Centres was the first step in an incremental/transitional approach to an integrated Family Hub model.  The proposal was for a commitment for the DGS funding of £1,048,758 be made available for the period of the contracts to contribute to the development of Family Hubs across Gloucestershire.  The Early Years Forum had been consulted and was in support of the proposal.  The local authority would involve the Early Years sector in the commissioning process, and in the monitoring of impact and the outcomes achieved.  He added that both the Early Years Forum and the Schools Forum would have oversight of how the funding was being used and the provision that was being made for Early Years through the Family Hubs.  Details on the specification of the Children & Family Centres and updates on the commissioning process would be brought to future Forum meetings.

ACTION: Head of Education Strategy and Development

 

14.11In response to a question, the Head of Education Strategy and Development clarified that the support services and overheads element of the Early Years Block primarily related to the staffing costs associated with the Early Years service within the local authority.

 

14.12 The Forum agreed the use of the Early Years DSG block as set out in Section 6 of the report, including a commitment for the DSG funding of £1,048,758 be made available for the period of the Children & Family Centre contracts to support the development of Family Hubs across Gloucestershire.

 

 

Supporting documents: