Agenda item

Local Authority School Improvement Grant

Minutes:

15.1     The Head of Education Strategy and Development presented the report which set out the options and a preferred solution to the funding pressures created by the removal of the School Improvement Monitoring & Brokering Grant.  Members noted that on 9th December 2021 the local authority held a briefing meeting with key stakeholders, including maintained schools headteachers and chairs of the headteachers associations.  The focus of the session was to explore the issues created by the DfE consultation and potential solutions to the proposed loss of funding. 

 

15.2     He reported that in early January 2022, the DfE’s consultation response was published, confirming that the grant would be removed over the next two financial years.  A 50% reduction in 2022/23 and full removal in 2023/24.  This would result in a loss of circa £360,000 in 2022/23 and £720,000 in 2023/24.  A further meeting was held with the heads associations and representatives of maintained schools on 2nd March 2022, during which the local authority shared and discussed the report which set out the proposals on how, in the short-term, the loss of funding could be addressed in the most effective and equitable way.

 

15.3     The Head of Education Strategy and Development explained that the first option the local authority considered was to use de-delegation from maintained schools to recoup the lost funding.  This was suggested by the DfE in the consultation.  However, de-delegation has to operate on a per-pupil basis rather than a whole-school budget top-slice.  The regulations also stated that it must be applied equally to all maintained schools.  As a result, all maintained schools in Gloucestershire would pay the same amount at a rate of approximately £9 per pupil.  It was recognised that school improvement was a whole school activity and as such, a per-pupil funding was a difficult approach to apply equitably for all schools.

 

15.4     The second option the local authority considered was to bridge the funding gap using a combination of de-delegated balances, the Central Services block, and a reduction in intervention funding that the Local Authority could offer to schools.

 

15.5     It was reported that de-delegated balances were forecast to carry a surplus at the end of the financial year.  The proposal was for £100k of the surplus to be used to support the loss of the grant. This would leave very little contingency in the budget; however, it was a budget that was consistently underspent. 

 

15.6     The Head of Education Strategy and Development informed members that a reduction in the school improvement intervention budget may limit the local authority’s ability to provide additional funding to maintained schools that need intervention or school improvement support.  This may mean that the local authority would no longer be in a position to provide funding to schools with a budget surplus, instead the local authority would need to focus the provision of funding to support schools that had a deficit budget position or were close to a deficit position.  He stressed that it would not reduce the capacity of the School Improvement Service in providing advice, guidance and support to schools, it would solely affect the provision of additional intervention funding to schools.

 

15.7     He reported that the Central Services block had seen a small increase this year and the local authority had therefore been able to provisionally ring-fence £160k to support the loss of the grant in 2022/23.

 

15.8     He explained that the timing of the consultation and response had left very little time for the authority to address the challenges the loss of grant had created for maintained schools and the local authority.  Consequently, the potential solutions had been developed by the local authority at a very fast pace.  He was aware that there were other local authorities that had put forward a proposal to their Schools Forum on recouping the lost funding via de-delegation from maintained schools.  Their Schools Forum had voted against the proposal and the local authority had then subsequently appealed to the DfE.  The DfE, having recommended de-delegation in the consultation paper, had overturned the Schools Forum decision and allowed the local authority to progress with de-delegation.  He explained that in Gloucestershire the local authority had aimed to avoid that pathway by developing an alternative solution to de-delegation.

 

15.9     The Forum was advised that the second option was the preferred option on the basis that it would provide the most effective and equitable approach to bridge the funding gap for 2022/23.  It would also provide time for more sustainable long-term plans to be put in place for 2023/24 and beyond.

 

15.10   In response to a question, the Head of Education Strategy and Development confirmed that the use of de-delegated balances as part of the second option, would not include any trade unions de-delegated balance.

 

15.11   The Forum agreed that the local authority bridges the funding gap for 2022/23 by reducing intervention funding and redundancy support for maintained schools.

 

15.12   Clare Dudman, Head of School Improvement, informed members that in the longer term the local authority was working with schools to develop a traded service.  As part of this service the local authority was offering schools the option of two different tiers of support that could be purchased independently or as part of a group of 5 or more schools (meaning that prices can be negotiated).  The aim was for the service to be as flexible as possible to meet the portfolio of needs of schools.  The Forum received the draft Gloucestershire School Improvement Offer (GLOSSI) Traded Service brochure and it was confirmed that the final copy was due to be circulated to schools imminently. 

 

15.13   A member commented that she would be interested to find out more information about who had been appointed to the School Improvement Service and the process involved, particularly in terms of quality assurance.  In response, the Head of School Improvement explained that the Gloucestershire School Improvement Service would encompass an experienced team of School Improvement Partners comprising a range of skills including those of serving headteachers, principals, senior leaders from local authorities, experienced leaders of MATs and subject specialists.  There would be a full selection process involved in the appointment of external partners; this would include making the appropriate Disclosure and Barring Service checks, and ensuring that they met the local authority’s set criteria in regard to relevant qualifications and experience.  All contracts with would have a break clause so that if the local authority was not satisfied with the service an adviser was providing, they could be withdrawn from the service or replaced by another adviser.  She advised members that she did not envisage there being any problems, as this approach was followed in other local authorities and worked well.  She emphasised the point that schools would need to provide her with direct feedback if they were unhappy with any aspect of the service being provided.

 

15.14   The Forum was informed that the aim was for schools to be provided with a document detailing the background and skills of the professionals working within team and the external partners. This would be circulated to schools in around June 2022.  A Forum member stressed the importance of schools being provided with information on the team member/external partner biographies, as the feedback they had received from schools was that this information would have a direct impact on whether or not schools decided to buy-in to the traded service.  Once the selection has been completed this would be actioned.

 

15.15   A Forum member representing special schools questioned whether the School Improvement Offer traded service would incorporate a specialism in regard to special schools.  She felt that previously it had been ad-hoc as to whether a special school was allocated an adviser who had the required knowledge and understanding of the differences in the curriculum, funding and the relationships required with health and social care.  Consequently, there was a degree of concern about paying for a traded service that was not able to provide the specialism required.  In response, the Head of School Improvement explained that once feedback had been received from the special schools and the level of interest ascertained for buy-in, the focus would be on ensuring that there were a range advisers within the team who had the right skill set to work with special schools.  

 

15.16   The Head of School Improvement reported that in order to get an indication of the number of schools requesting support, the local authority would be asking for expressions of interest from schools in the next few weeks.  A commitment for purchase would need to be made in the summer term.

 

15.17   The Head of Education Strategy and Development explained that following the recent publication of the Government’s Schools White Paper the local authority would be reviewing its statutory responsibilities and long-term role to ensure that the structure of school improvement alongside the traded services offer enabled the local authority to undertake its statutory functions in relation to school improvement.  The local authority would also review the current de-delegation to assess the appropriate level of de-delegation from 2023/24 onwards. 

 

 

Supporting documents: