Agenda item

High Needs

Minutes:

6.1      The Head of Education Strategy and Development presented a report which provided an update on the High Needs financial forecast for 2023/24, the current numbers of Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs), plus the planning of specialist sufficiency and DfE – SEND and Alternative Provision Change reforms.

 

6.2      He reported that there had been a further rise of £1.56M in forecast spend.  The key variations to note were a £1.5M increase in spend on independent placements, increased pressure on Education Other Than At School (EOTAS) and special school bespoke packages, and small increases in secondary mainstream top-ups and specialist centres.

 

6.3      Members were informed that the local authority would be undertaking a detailed review of the forecast of independent placements and would update more fully at the January Schools Forum meeting when the position was clear.

 

6.4      In response to a question, the Head of Education Strategy and Development explained that independent special schools in the county were monitored by the local authority’s Specialist Commissioning Team, so they received regular reviews and the quality of provision was good.  However, the local authority was committed to making sure that there was sufficient capacity within the county’s special schools to reduce the reliance on the independent sector.  Nationally, independent special schools were a critical element of the infrastructure within the SEND system and there would always be a need for some independent schools within the system. 

 

6.5      In response to a question, it was agreed that the Forum would be provided with a breakdown of the number of children, by age range, attending independent special schools.

ACTION:Head of Education Strategy and Development.

 

6.6      The Head of Education Strategy and Development reported since the last Forum meeting in September the number of EHCPs supported in Gloucestershire had risen by 108 to 5,734 and 32.9 per 1000 0–24-year-olds.  The data showed that the significant majority of new plans were issued prior to the age of 10 and that the volume of EHCP’s in the system was peaking between the ages of 11 and 14.   Locally the rate of growth between January 2022 and January 2023 was 2.5 per 1000, compared to 2.6 nationally and 3.5 per 1000 for statistical neighbours.

 

6.7      It was reported that the local authority was working on the assumption that in the next few years the number of EHCPs at statutory school age would start to level off.  This would mean that the increased need for specialist placements should also start to settle. 

 

6.8      The Head of Education Strategy and Development reported that Gloucestershire’s High Needs block allocation was the 10th lowest per pupil in the country.  This clearly demonstrated that Gloucestershire did not receive an equitable level of High Needs funding.  The High Needs block deficit had grown by £29M over the past two financial years (£9M in 2022/23 and £15.2M in 23/24).  He pointed out that whilst the High Needs block was under significant pressure, school budgets were also under increasing pressure, which presented a challenging environment for inclusion when there was a rising number of children with SEND in the system.  There were also core Council funding pressures on Home to School Transport with a £3.6M increase in spend in 2023/24 (the key pressures were around SEND transport), and a significant investment in SEND services in 2022/23 and 2023/24 of £2.4M.

 

6.9      In response to a question on how the increase in expenditure in High Needs was funded, it was explained that currently the Council was able to support the High Needs deficit through its own central reserves, but this was not a long-term solution.  There were some local authorities who were supporting their High Needs deficit through borrowing, meaning their deficit was increasing with an interest rate attached.  It was explained that Councils were not required to report their High Needs deficit as part of their overall accounts.  It was agreed that officers would look into whether information on the Council’s reserves was publicly available with a view to sharing this with the Forum.

ACTION: Finance Manager - Schools, Strategy and Capital.

 

6.10    The Head of Education Strategy and Development gave an update on the Local Area Improvement Plan.  He reported that the Gloucestershire Local Area SEND and Inclusion Partnership Board was overseeing the development work taking place as part of the improvement plan which included activity in relation to Gloucestershire’s SEND Strategy 2022-25 and the DfE SEND and Alternative Provision (AP) Change Programme. 

 

6.11    He informed members that Gloucestershire would be working in partnership with Swindon to lead the piloting of the SEND and AP reforms for the southwest region. The focus was on ensuring that all the development work and activities taking place locally including around the Delivering Better Value in SEND Programme (DBV), were aligning with the changes taking place on a national basis.

 

6.12    He emphasised that even though the DBV Programme was driven by the need to make financial efficiencies, in effect how to achieve better value for money within the local system, most importantly the focus was centred on how the local authority could deliver the best outcomes for children and young people. 

 

6.13    The Head of Education Strategy and Development gave a detailed update on the activities taking place in relation to the Local Area Improvement Programme.  He reported that the Local Area Improvement Plan would be brought to the next meeting of the Forum in January 2024.

 

6.14    In response to a question about how the impact of the Local Area Improvement Programme would be measured, it was explained that officers had been working on developing performance indicators and evaluation criteria for the local partnership.  It had been a complex exercise, however, progress had made on the development of a model.  The focus was now on ensuring this aligned with the DfE’s approach in order to develop a clear performance matrix.

 

6.15    In response to a question, the Head of Education Strategy and Development explained that the DfE’s Funding Policy Team had indicated that at present, no legislative changes were planned around the SEND Code of Practice: 0 to 25 years, but it had not been ruled out.  The Director of Education added that as part of the change programme process, around 50 local authorities, including Gloucestershire, were meeting regularly with the DfE’s policy makers who were looking at the various elements of the reforms.  This provided local authorities with a valuable way of delivering robust feedback about what would and would not work on the ground.  It was an important piece of work as it was one of the key ways to affect some influence around those who were proposing the policies and what they would take forward.

 

6.16    The Forum was informed that the local authority’s current plan was to increase the number of special school places in the county by 270 places over the next four years (200 places in a new special school and 70 in existing schools (20 at Brook Academy, 30 at Sladewood Academy and 20 at Heart of the Forest)).  The current estimates suggested that an extra 330 places could be needed over that period.

 

6.17    One Forum member questioned whether some of the extra provision could be developed within mainstream settings.  In response, it was explained that the SEND Team and the Specialist Commissioning Team were currently looking at the options for future expansion of places both in the mainstream and special schools, including expansion of the mainstream resource base model, and would be developing proposals on the way forward. 

 

6.18    The Head of Education Strategy and Development gave an outline of Gloucestershire’s DSG Management Plan.  The Plan had been developed through the DBV programme using the required DfE template and it set out the mitigated and unmitigated position, alongside the narrative around the local context.  It painted a clear picture of the challenges faced - by 2027/28 the forecast mitigated position was £199.8M spend and unmitigated £230M.  Forum members noted that the Plan would be submitted to the DfE in December 2023.  It was explained that the DfE, periodically, would be asking local authorities to review and resubmit their plans.

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