The paper circulated with the agenda outlined the pressures and background to the issues associated with the High Needs Block, which had been discussed previously by Schools Forum. The LA had seen a 56% increase in the number of young people accessing an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), against a 15% increase in funding. As noted, a cumulative overspend of £7.08m was predicted for the current year which included the additional £404,000 confirmed by the DfE.
The report included an illustration of the new requests received. It was pointed out that not only was there an increase in the number of EHCPs but also in the complexity of need, which impacted further on funding. Although there was now stronger governance in place, the increase in demand, including a rise in the number of EHCPs in the under 5s and Post 16 categories led to significantly higher top up funding.
Members were aware there had been an increase in complex needs and comparisons were highlighted. With a more robust process now in place, there was a slight reduction in numbers and stability in EHCPs; overall there was more confidence in the system. In addition, there were now more children in the authority, which would inevitably lead to more EHCPs; however, although the percentage of EHCPs had gone down, it was still higher than the national average.
It was confirmed the full academic year had been shown using the current banding model.
It was noted that Early Years Inclusion funding had been included in the High Needs Block budget-setting but without an allocated budget line. This funding was for the gathering of evidence required to apply for an EHCP, funded at a maximum of £14.00 per hour for 15 hours over 22 weeks.
The continued pressures were indicative of the current year, where it had also been necessary to increase resources for independent special school, post 16 and Hard to Place students. Funding for Early Years and Hard to Place had been reviewed but could impact on another block if the charges were transferred elsewhere. Hard to Place funding was not only about a lack of suitable places but also about meeting pupils’ need. There had been an issue previously when this funding came from High Needs and there were not enough places available. The figure of £158,000 which had been factored into the ‘Hard to Place’ budget had been incorrectly allocated to the High Needs Block as it had been for students who were hard to place due to sufficiency issues.
It was pointed out that 2-3 years before, the LA had not been able to meet the needs of a number of children within the Borough and work was ongoing to review placements, including those not being used, with the aim of bringing those children back into Slough. There was a focus on mainstream inclusion to reduce the overspend, along with SEND strategies in maintained schools: the LA was working closely with Arbour Vale and other associated agencies to ensure the right support was in place. Discussions had been held with other LAs experiencing similar pressures and the situation was being monitored.
The ESFA had requested that LAs inform them how deficits, particularly in High Needs, were being addressed. Cate Duffy confirmed that the report shared with the ESFA before Christmas was as presented at this meeting. The ESFA had been told the LA was doing all it could to address the issue. Work was ongoing to improve the systems for schools and children, whilst also dealing with issues individual to Slough. There was clear evidence of underfunding whilst demand increased but this was a national issue.
It was agreed the information presented was helpful but did not address how the deficit was to be reduced. Cate Duffy confirmed that the ESFA had been informed the LA was not in a position to reduce the total deficit but had demonstrated strategies introduced to rationalise the situation and develop closer working relationships with schools. More clarity was requested and members were assured all possible was being done to address the situation. It was confirmed that figures could be allocated against a number of the savings already identified.
Concern was expressed by Forum members that with the continued budget cuts, more issues would be passed to schools that were also experiencing reduced funding. Cate Duffy acknowledged there were collective pressures around better provision being provided in mainstream settings which could take 2-3 years to embed. It was acknowledged that workforce development could be offered through SENCo training, peer to peer work etc.
It was confirmed a paper exploring the possibility of reassigning funding between blocks was to be drawn up.
It was reported that since the formation of the Resources Base Working Group, the Base at Foxborough had been closed but work continued with Priory and Early Years providers.
A Forum member challenged the use of the term ‘historic failings’ in connection with Resource Bases. It was agreed that there should be transparency about these issues, which had concerned a small minority of Resource Bases, and were focused on around commissioning arrangements.
In response to a query from a Forum member, the link between High Needs and PFI was acknowledged and it was confirmed that PFI would be taken into account to reduce the deficit. This would be supported by a paper to Forum for the March 2019 meeting.
9.20am: Cate Duffy left the meeting