GB introduced the report and drew attention to the following:
· Period 7 was the period up until the end of October;
· Since the previous period, there had been change in relation to the High Needs Block with the in-year overspend now being forecast as £8m;
· The overspend had largely been associated with top ups due to an increase in both numbers and costs and further details were outlined in appendix 2;
· In special schools there were over 100 more pupils receiving top ups and 400 more in mainstream schools with more pupils in the higher bands. Also Sixth Form colleges had a significant increase in the last couple of years at the cost of an extra £1m per year to the High Needs Block.
AH confirmed that:
· the Education Transformation Programme was designed to improve the SEND system rather than cut costs;
· the increase in number of EHCPs being processed had therefore led to an increase in costs;
· there was also a national trend for an increase in requests for ECHPs;
· in the longer term the financial position would be more stable as the right provision was in place.
In response to a question about what the Local Authority was planning to do to reduce the deficit in the High Needs Block and why the level of deficit was not identified earlier, the following points were made:
· the position was not sustainable and the LA were looking at a number of options, including lobbying for additional government funding as this was a national problem where the level of funding did not meet the increase in demand for SEND provision;
· The work of Transformation Programme would address the sustainability of the High Needs Block e.g. the LA was investing capital funding into increasing places in the right settings;
· The DfE had issued a deficit management plan for Local Authorities which was a useful tool would be used in conjunction with the longer term business plan;
· The information on how Bristol City Council spent its capital allocation was not the remit of the Schools Forum, but this information could be shared at future meetings;
· Although the increasing deficit had been predicted for a while, a lot of work had needed to be undertaken from a data perspective to give the full picture.
The following responses were given in response to questions raised by Forum Members:
· The increase in deficit was partly due to clearing the backlog of ECHP applications, 639 had been processed so far in the current year compared to 410 for the whole of the previous year;
· It was also acknowledged that schools were not able to meet SEND needs from their budgets and there was a big piece of work linked to ordinarily available provision in schools and part of that was setting a strong foundation that was equitable and consistent across schools; the “belonging strategy” - a wider strategy to make sure SEND students could attend school and have their needs met; the workforce development programme to meet a wide range of needs as part of everyday funding;
· More work was needed to understand the full picture of why there was an increase in applications for both top up funding and EHCPs;
· Bristol was unique in having non-funded ECHPs and this was something that needed to be reviewed;
· In relation to Bristol pupils in other Local Authorities, the banding was based on the individual;
· Local Authorities were still lobbying the government about the lack of SEND funding for further education colleges and it was noted that the work to try and get young people not in employment, education or training (NEET) back into education would impact the SEND funding in colleges;
In response to concerns raised that there was an increasing number of SEND children entering early years/nursery who were not able to see a paediatrician or health visitor to enable them to access early support, AH confirmed that there were some actions in the Written Statement of Action and milestones on early intervention and undertook to provide a detailed update to SH.
DM summed up from a financial perspective:
· The overarching financial position was a significant increase in-year and further work was required to establish whether this would increase further by the end of the year;
· Further work was also required to analyse if any of the additional SEND expenditure was Covid related and therefore whether any additional support from government was available as a Covid response grant;
· In relation to Early Years, it was noted that in previous years the EY block had an underspend and this year there was a forecast overspend which was largely contributed to SEND;
· Bristol City Council had made significant representations to government, including the monthly returns to the MHCLG; the comprehensive spending review and the Mayor had also written to the Secretary of State;
· Deficit management plan allowed for a longer term recovery as the reality was that the scale could not continue to grow at the current level. Bristol City Council would need to start discussions with auditors as the DSG deficit now exceeded the level of school reserves for the first time.
In response to questioning on the school reserves, DM confirmed that this did not include academy reserves and also that the reserves would have been greater in previous years when the majority of schools were local authority maintained.
RESOLVED that the in-year 2020/21 position for the overall DSG be noted.