Agenda item

High Needs Block Update and 0.5% Funding Switch Request


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 £20.0m overspend. At the end of the last financial year the DSG reserve was in deficit by £14.2m and will deepen to more than £30m given the expected overspend in 2023/24. Indicative Government funding next year would see Staffordshire’s High Needs Budget increase to £131m (c.3% higher than 2023/24). However, this was considerably lower than recent rises and – whilst in line with expectation - would likely see the overspend increase in 2024/25 to c£25m. Left unaddressed the accumulated DSG Deficit was forecast to worsen over the next 4 years to between £150m and £225m by 2026/27.


A ‘Deficit Management Plan’ (DMP) had been developed, based on the Council’s SEND Strategy and Accelerated Progress Plan (APP), 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 included a range of interventions and policy reviews that would provide for additional resource / reduce costs in the short and medium term.


A working group of Schools Forum had met on 23 October to review the information and actions set out in the DMP. Members of the working groups gave a brief summary of the discussion and information shared.


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 2024/25, which formed a key part of the Council’s DMP.


Consultation had been conducted with schools and commenced on Friday 15 September and closed at 5pm on Friday 13 October 2023. This allowed four weeks for schools to respond, the results of this consultation were included in appendices 2 and 3 to the report. The view of schools was largely opposed to the transfer but on a low sample response rate of only 10%.


It was noted that 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. It was highlighted that this was a national issue and that Staffordshire’s position was not as bad as some other Councils.


Members reflected that the decision was not an easy decision to make and explored the issue thoroughly before the vote was taken.


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, 12 voting against and 4 abstaining.NB – two members of the Schools Forum had left the meeting before the discussion had finished so did not cast a vote.


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.


SEND Strategy & Accelerated Progress Plan


The Schools Forum received an update on the SEND Strategy & Accelerated Progress Plan. The local authority had developed a strategic plan on how it intended to bring the HNB to sustainable levels over time. This included processes that would involve:


  • Developing Targeted Support


The local authority had supported the SEND & Inclusion district model which, in turn, had created collaborative working between the Local Authority (LA) and schools. As part of this project the LA, schools and other stakeholders, had established a locality-based model - at a District level - enabling early intervention for the benefit of pupils who were identified as being in need. The Council had put in place additional investment of c£3m to support this model.


A further development of the EAPDR Pathway had been co-produced with schools, education settings, Parent Carer Forum, Health, Social Care and Educational professionals in order to support schools and educational settings with capacity to meet a CYP’s SEND needs by accessing the right support, in the right place, at the right time.


  • Collaborative Working


The LA had worked closely with independent providers to identify cost effective provision for high needs placements that offered value for money and ensured good outcomes for pupils with SEND.


Using the DfE SEND capital funding to create additional provision in Staffordshire special schools based on a detailed analysis of need, specifically in relation to Social Emotional Mental Health needs and Autism.

A pre-statutory SEDIS model accessed via an Enhanced Assess-Plan-Do Review Pathway to provide mainstream educational settings with the resources and support to deliver the graduated response.


  • Partner Contributions


It was highlighted that the Council would continue to ensure a fair contribution was made from health and social care partners towards the cost of specialist places and provision where appropriate.


It was explained to the Forum that no single action alone would be sufficient to mitigate the existing deficit; this would only be addressed through a combination of interventions. A longer-term financial management plan had been developed that was consistent with the actions and objectives outlined in the Council’s Accelerated Progress Plan and wider SEND Strategy.


Members welcomed the update on the actions being taken through the Accelerated Progress Plan and DMP and requested that further updates be included in the Work Programme


Resolved: a. That the High Needs Block budget 2023/24 and latest forecast outturn be noted;

b. That the latest budget assumptions 2024/25 be noted;

c. That the Deficit Management Plan 2023/24 – 2027/28 be noted;

e. That the outcome of the Council’s consultation with schools regarding the 0.5% funding switch in 2024/25 be noted;

f. That the outcome of the Schools Forum vote on the 0.5% funding switch in 2024/25 be noted.


Supporting documents: