Agenda item

High Needs Block


The Schools Forum received a report from the Director of Children and Families relating to the High Needs Block (HNB).


Members heard that the forecast outturn for the 2022/23 High Needs Block was £6.0m overspend. At the end of the last financial year the DSG reserve was in deficit by £8.6m and will deepen given the expected overspend in 2022/23. Indicative Government funding next year would see Staffordshire’s High Needs Budget increase to £122m (c.6%). However, this was insufficient to close the gap and it was likely that a further overspend will arise in 2023/24 of c £8m - there was also a risk that this could be significantly worse given clarifications in the HNB Operational Guide 23/24 regarding the funding of other authority ‘Looked After Children’. Left unaddressed the accumulated DSG Deficit was forecast to worsen over the next 4 years to between £70m and £100m by 2026/27.


A ‘Deficit Management Plan’ (DMP) had been developed, based on the Council’s SEND Strategy, that aimed to develop a more inclusive system where more Children and Young People (CYP) with SEND access mainstream education - wherever possible within their local community - and if appropriate with specialist support. This would provide for a more sustainable model, with better outcomes for our CYP and reduce reliance on the non-maintained and independent sector. This would take time to impact and, in order to limit the extent of the accumulated deficit arising over the next few years, the DMP also includes a range of interventions and policy reviews that would provide for additional resource / reduce costs in the short and medium term.


Given the continuing SEND demand, and growing deficit, Schools Forum were asked to approve the transfer of 0.5% funding from the schools block for high needs in 2023/24, which formed a key part of the Council’s DMP.


Consultation had been conducted with schools with a response of 25% replying, the results of this consultation were included in appendices 2 and 3 to the report.


Whilst the Forum understood the pressures faced by the Council, it was felt that Members had to vote for the schools they represented and that while funding was needed for the HNB it was felt that this should not be at the expense of the Schools Block of the DSG. It was highlighted that this was a national issue and that Staffordshire’s position was not as bad as some other Councils. Members also shared concerns that Schools were struggling to support students coming out of covid, and it was suggested that a lot of work on the SEND offering and model would need to be undertaken. At this stage some members felt that they could not support funding a system that they considered to not be functioning properly at this time.


The Forum considered the information in the report and voted against the proposal to transfer 0.5% from the Schools Block to the High Needs Block in 2023/24 with 2 voting in favour, 16 voting against and 2 abstaining.


Members were informed that, as the Schools Forum have not supported the 0.5% Block Transfer Request, the Local Authority would be applying to the Secretary of State to make a final decision on the application to make this switch.


The Deficit Management Plan would be monitored going forward and regularly brought to Schools Forum meetings as part of the routine High Needs Block update report.


The Chair suggested that the Schools Forum Recovery Working Group be reconvened to support the Local Authority with the development of the deficit management plan. This would allow members a more detailed awareness of the data that is being shared in the recovery template of the deficit management plan. A provisional date had been arranged for the Working Group to take place on 28th November 2022 and Richard Redgate, Alison Parr, Emily Verow and Kevin Allbutt volunteered to participate.


Resolved: That:

  1. the High Needs Block budget 2022/23 and latest forecast outturn be noted;
  2. the latest budget assumptions 2023/24 be noted;
  3. the Deficit Management Plan 2022/23 – 2026/27 be noted;
  4. the outcomes of the Council’s consultation with schools regarding the 0.5% funding switch in 2023/24 are noted;
  5. Schools Forum Recovery Working Group be reconvened to support the Local Authority with the development of the deficit management plan.


Supporting documents: