Mandy Lawson (Assistant Director of SEND) presented the report that provided an update on the financial position of the DSG High Needs Block and the local response to address funding pressures. She noted the significant pressures – highlighting the retained deficit of £7m and forecast overspend of £6.4m by the end of this financial year. Officers had met with the DfE to discuss as this was a national, but there were no quick solutions offered. The DfE were gathering information from Councils as part of a wider review.
Mandy Lawson explained that the Council was moving forward on ‘phase 1’ – addressing the overspend. This included:
· Dis-application from the Schools Block of up to £1m.
· Cost recovery for non-resident children - letters had gone out to local authorities asking them to fund the 10 percent top-up fee.
· Targeted primary funding was being considered.
Phase 2 would be a whole system approach – including options for improving early intervention and work in schools.
Members asked if the H&F overspend was in line with other councils. Officers said this was an emerging issue in all councils – in terms of the overspend we were about average.
Members asked if there was an expectation of a £1m dis-application year on year. Tony Burton said dis-application has to be requested every year with School’s Forum agreement – there was no assumption it’s ongoing. He added that it’s also not clear if the facility will be available under the full implementation of the National Funding Formula.
Members asked why H&F was seeing huge increases in SEND in the borough. Mandy Lawson said this was a national issue with a number of factors:
· The recent SEND reforms hugely increased parental expectations without increasing budgets in line with them.
· More children were being diagnosed with SEND generally - advances in healthcare also meant more vulnerable children were surviving for longer.
· The threshold for an Education Health and Care Plan was lowered.
Many of the issues above were out of the Council’s or School’s control but through phase 2 we could get better at identifying issues early, putting in interventions and tracking outcomes – and avoid the expectation that children will have an EHCP from age 3 to 25.
Steve Miley (Director for Children’s Services) made it clear that the Council wants to meet the needs of children with additional needs. If we can have the discussion with schools and partners we will find ways of meeting those needs. Members said headteachers welcomed the opportunity to have a common strategy and put in place a more effective use of funding streams for inclusion etc.
A member suggested the idea of notional funding that moved at the point that the child moved schools. The gap without funding under the current system caused huge issues for schools. Officers agreed. Mandy Lawson said a report was already in the works on notional funding.
ACTION: Tony Burton / Mandy Lawson
Headteachers noted there were inconsistencies in EHCPs – the levels seemed to be very different. They suggested looking at this issue across boroughs.
The Chair asked for an update at the next meeting on what pressures schools were facing and the options being considered.
ACTION: Mandy Lawson