Agenda item

High Needs


8.1      The Head of Education Strategy and Inclusion presented a report which provided an update on the 2022/23 High Needs financial forecast, the current growth trends in Education Health and Care Plans (EHCP), and the options for use of the additional £3.676M High Needs DSG for 2023/24.


8.2      The Forum was informed that the pressure on the High Needs budget had continued to increase.  Since the November Forum meeting, which reported the September 2022 forecast, there had been a number of further adjustments to the forecast for the year.  The net result of those adjustments was a further increase in expenditure of £1.597M, resulting in an in-year deficit of £8.5M.  


8.3      There had been a number of movements in the reporting period, but the most significant factor was the increase in mainstream funding forecasts.  This was caused by a continued and extensive rise in EHCPs, which was significantly more than forecast.  At 30th November 2022, 235 new plans had been issued in this academic year (3 months), which compared to 162 in the same period in the 2021/22 academic year.  At current rates, the number of new plans issued could exceed 900 this academic year.


8.4      Members were informed that the continued increase in the requests for EHCPs had placed significant pressure on the casework team that managed the process, resulting in delays to issuing and resourcing plans.  As a result, the local authority had agreed that funding for delayed plans would be backdated to the statutory deadline (20 weeks).  The cost of doing this was £381k.


8.5      Whilst new benchmarking data was awaited, the latest data set showed that the number of pupils with EHCPs in the county was still lower than the national average.  Information on the new data would be circuited to Forum members once published. 

            ACTION: Head of Education Strategy and Inclusion.


8.6      In response to a question, the Head of Education Strategy and Inclusion explained that there had been a steady increase in the requests for EHCP assessments from parents and carers over the course of the past few years.  He commented that the cultural change in trend regarding the source of EHCP requests could be linked to the 2014 reforms to the SEND system which placed more emphasis on parental engagement.  He agreed to provide members with the latest data on the source of EHCPs requests in the county.

            ACTION: Head of Education Strategy and Inclusion.


8.7      The Head of Education Strategy and Inclusion outlined the proposals for the implementation of the common banding system.  He explained that the funding levels for the banding system now needed to be agreed ahead of the new financial year.  The implementation of a common banding system was neither to increase nor reduce spend in High Needs.  The aim was to develop a better structured and consistent system across the county, replicating existing funding levels through a banded funding model.


8.8      In response to a question, it was clarified that the severn bands would be used across both mainstream schools and special schools, with some crossover in the middle.  For children and young people with needs at the top-level descriptor or beyond, bespoke packages would be implemented. 


8.9      One member asked whether the local authority had given consideration to the implementation of a buffer system for the funding rate of the highest band, so that special schools could avoid having to seek exceptional funding through a complex process, when the cost of meeting the needs of a child exceeded that figure.  In response, the Head of Education Strategy and Inclusion explained whilst this had been considered, a decision was taken to mirror the current funding rates of the bands.  Whilst at this stage officers were of the view that no changes were needed to the exceptional funding process, if it became evident that the number of requests for exceptional funding was increasing, to an extent that it was no longer operating on an exceptional basis, then a full review would be undertaken.


8.10    One member pointed out that the cost of meeting a child’s needs in a mainstream school, in cases where a child was waiting for a special school place to become available, was significantly greater, due to mainstream schools not having the economies of scale to provide the specialist support needed.  In response, the Head of Education Strategy and Inclusion explained that if a child was being accommodated within a mainstream school for an extended period of time then the school should consult with the case worker to look at options for implementing exceptional funding support.  Information on the exceptional funding process would shortly be circulated to all maintained special and mainstream schools.  He added that the local authority was looking to increase the sufficiency of special school places in the county.  The new Brook Academy had opened in September 2022, and a further school was due to open in September 2023.  A bid had also been submitted to the DfE’s wave 15 free school programme for 2 new special schools. 


8.11    The Head of Education Strategy and Inclusion outlined the proposal for the mainstream banding rates.  The proposal was to use a combination of the local authority’s financial modelling (based on current levels of funding) and alignment with banding levels from other local authorities which had recently been agreed with the DfE.  The modelling showed a variance of £57k on a £13M budget.


8.12    He acknowledged that migration to the new banding for new EHCPs may be challenging.  At this stage the migration plan was still being developed.  The specialist provision team would be consulting with mainstream schools and the Parent Carer Forum in regard to the options for the migration process.


8.13    In response to comments made by members it was agreed that further modelling work would be undertaken by officers, on the band 4 adjusted funding rate, to assess the impact further uplifts would have on reducing the £57k variance to the budget, to bring that as close to a zero variance as possible.

            ACTION: The Head of Education Strategy and Inclusion.


8.14    One member commented that given the number of pupils with EHCPs in Gloucestershire was lower than the national average, yet Gloucestershire’s High Needs deficit was over £20M, it was evident that the level of High Needs funding from government was wholly inadequate.


8.15    Having considered all of the information presented, the Forum agreed that in regard to the implementation of the common banding system:

Ø    The special school banding rates be applied as outlined in option 2 of fig.3 (in       the report).

Ø    The mainstream school banding rates be applied at the adjusted rate in fig.4         (in the report), subject to a further adjustment being made to the rate of band 4       in order to achieve as close to a zero variance to the current budget as possible.


8.16    The Forum was informed that the final High Needs funding allocation for Gloucestershire in 2023/24 was £93.023M, this consisted of £89.346M based on the indicative DSG announced in September, plus the additional £3.676M of High Needs DSG announced in December.  This represented a total increase of £8.782M from 2022/23.


8.17    The Head of Education Strategy and Inclusion reported that unlike the supplementary grant received for the 2022/23 financial year, the additional High Needs DSG funding for 2023/24 had more detailed guidance for its use.  Implementation of the guidance from the DfE (a 3% MFG and a 3.4% inflationary increase to base and average top-up funding) was forecast to cost £0.939M.  Both uplifts must be provided after the MFG has been applied.


8.18    For use of the 2023/24 High Needs DSG, the Forum agreed that:

Ø    Increases to special school funding be implemented as outlined in the DfE guidance, using a 3% minimum funding guarantee and a 3.4% uplift to base and average top-up funding for all special schools.


8.19    The future four options for mainstream top-up and targeted support funding were outlined to the Forum.  The Head of Education Strategy and Inclusion emphasised to members that the 1 in 40 model had become unsustainable.  Due to the continued rise in the number of new EHCPs, maintaining the 1 in 40 model was forecast to increase the cost by at least £1.911M to £5.028M. 


8.20    For 2023/24, the local authority was proposing to move forward with Option C (reduce the 1 in 40 to 1 in 30 (with protection), and Option D (apply a 3.4% increase to top-up funding for all mainstream top-ups (including specialist centres).  By applying Option C and D, this would limit the rising costs of the 1 in 40 model; apply a protection for those in receipt of the funding; and provide an increase in top-up funding for all schools.


8.21    The Forum was informed that for 2024/25, the local authority planned to take a whole school approach to the allocation of targeted funding.  To prepare for this, officers would be working with a small group of 5-10 schools, that were in receipt of high levels of 1 in 40 funding, to undertake a specialist review.  The review would make recommendations to the school on the quality and value for money of current provision and to the local authority on how funding could be provided to mainstream to support ‘provision’ rather than a per pupil amount based upon EHCP numbers.  The scope and activity around this review would be key areas of focus for the Forum’s High Needs Budget Working Group.


8.22    The Head of Education Strategy and Inclusion clarified that the protection applied in regard to Option C would ensure that schools in receipt of 1 in 40 funding in 2022/23 do not receive less funding, in real terms, than they did in 2023/24. This would mean that there would be no further progression of the funding in 2023/24.  The cost of this protection was forecast to be £0.372M. 


8.23    He added that due to the significant financial pressure on the High Needs budget the local authority was not in a position to maintain the 1 in 40 model.  The proposed way forward had been established as the best way to continue providing targeted support for schools with high numbers of children with EHCPs; ensure that all schools receive a top-up increase; and to manage the pressures on the High Needs budget.


8.24    He explained that many local authorities do not provide additional targeted funding to their schools; consequently, he anticipated that if the local authority was to continue with the model in its current format, the DfE would challenge the local authority on this as part of its engagement with the DBV programme.


8.25    There was a considerable degree of concern amongst some members around the local authority’s proposal to change the 1 in 40 model to 1 in 30.  There was recognition that some schools were perceived to be more inclusive and to have a stronger offer for children with SEND, and therefore had a disproportionally high number of children with EHCPs.  It was suggested that whilst this disparity existed, and the level of need continued to rise, the local authority needed to ensure there was a system in place to provide sufficient funding to schools with a disproportionally high number of children with EHCPs.  Members were unwilling to support a change to the 1 in 40 model without a clear alternative strategy in place for future years. 


8.26    The Forum considered the recommendation that options C and D (as set out in the report) be applied, which would adjust the 1 in 40 model to 1 in 30 and provide a 3.4% increase to mainstream top-up funding.  On being put to a vote, the Forum resolved not to agree this recommendation (3 members voted in favour, 4 against and 4 abstained).


8.27    The Head of Education Strategy and Inclusion explained that the Forum had an advisory role on High Needs funding, and therefore the final decision on the 1 in 40 model would rest with the local authority.  Officers would reflect on the points raised during the meeting and determine the way forward.


8.28    The Forum was informed of how the £3.676M additional High Needs DSG would be allocated.  The forecast cumulative cost of the allocation was £2.014M and would leave £1.662M of the additional grant to support the wider pressures on the High Needs budget.


8.29    At this juncture, the meeting was no longer quorate and therefore members did not vote on whether to support the recommendation for any surplus remaining in the additional High Needs DSG, following allocation of funding to schools, to be used to offset the deficit pressures on the High Needs block.

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