West Berkshire Council

Agenda item

Final Schools Funding Formula 2019/20 (Melanie Ellis)

Minutes:

Melanie Ellis introduced the report (Agenda Item 7), which set out of the result from the consultation with all schools on the proposed primary and secondary school funding formula for 2020/21 and made a final recommendation.

Melanie Ellis drew attention to the recommendations under section 2.1 of the report and explained that schools that had responded to the consultation had largely been supportive of recommendation one to five:

·         To mirror the DfE’s National Funding Formula to calculate the funding allocations

·         To introduce the mobility factor into the local formula

·         To address any surplus or shortfall in funding by a combination of reduced AWPU rates and a cap on gains

·         To agree the criteria for additional funds as per the consultation

·         To agree the de-delegations and to top up the Primary Schools in Financial Difficulty fund to £200k

Consultation results had been closer in relation to recommendation six concerning a transfer of funding from the Schools’ Block to support high needs. Eight schools had opted against the transfer and nine in favour of it. Melanie Ellis reported that the item had been considered by the Heads’ Funding Group (HFG), which had supported the proposed transfer of 0.25% and this had also been supported by the Council’s Executive.

Catie Colston noted that only 17 schools out of 81 schools had responded to the consultation and therefore only those that had made the effort to respond were driving the recommendation. Ian Pearson added that a view to support the transfer had also been taken at the HFG however, the final decision would need to be taken by the Schools’ Forum.

David Ramsden added that the matter had been raised a number of times at the Schools’ Forum and Antony Gallagher reported that it had also been discussed by with primary heads.

Hilary Latimer commented that the recommended transfer had been discussed at the HFG and it had been made very clear that the transferred funds would be used for invest to save initiatives, which had made the proposed transfer more favourable.

Reverend Mark Bennet queried how 0.25% would help solve the problem being faced within the High Needs Block (HNB) budget. Ian Pearson explained that pressure within the area of high needs was something that was being faced by schools throughout the country. The Government had made additional funding available for high needs and West Berkshire had received a proportion of this funding, which had been factored into the figures included in the paperwork. Ian Pearson explained that if agreed, a top slice of 0.25% would only be applied in 2020/21 and was one off money. Activity carried out under the invest to save proposals would support children schools over a 12 month period.

Ian Pearson reported that there was reference to a Special Education Needs and Disability (SEND) Strategy within the report. The SEND Strategy included five strands that were important when considering expenditure pressures. There would not be a decision required on the HNB until the next round of meetings however, a decision on the 0.25% transfer was required in order to configure the amount of funding available to high needs services and set the schools’ budget. Early intervention and ensuring schools were adequately equipped to support students with a higher level of need were important elements moving forward.

Ian Pearson added that a report was likely to be required by the Department for Education (DfE) later in 2020 on deficit recovery in West Berkshire. This would be the same for all Local Authorities across the country facing a deficit over a percentage threshold.

Melanie Ellis highlighted that page 66 of the report detailed the responses to the consultation with schools.

Mark Bennet stated that the proposal put forward seemed to fund schools’ priorities rather than issues directly affecting high needs services. Ian Pearson disagreed and felt that this statement was misleading. Through the invest to save proposals there would be free access to a Language and Literacy Service (LALs); a designated officer for Therapeutic Thinking; increased support for ASD, which was one of the main elements driving the deficit up. Finally there would be increased short term funding available through the Vulnerable Children’s Grant (VCF) for schools that needed to provide support to vulnerable pupils with complex needs.

Jonathon Chishick queried if 0.25% was sufficient. Ian Pearson responded that a lead was being taken from schools on how much they were willing to contribute rather than how much was actually needed. The detail of what was required was set out in the SEND implementation plan. If more money was available then more could be done however, it was important to be realistic.

Councillor Erik Pattenden asked how much money would be required to do everything required within the area of high needs. Ian Pearson stated that it was unclear if further increased funding would be available from Government in subsequent years. In response to Councillor Pattenden’s question it was estimated that an extra £1.6/1.8m investment would be required.

Chris Prosser reported that the Secondary Heads Group had met recently and a reluctance to top slice funding had been voiced. If the top slice in funding did go ahead it was important that it was used in a way that represented the needs of schools and Chris Prosser reported that there had been support for the proposed invest to save approach. A long conversation had taken place at the Secondary Heads Group and it had been agreed that if a top slice was to go ahead then a percentage lower than 0.25% would be preferred.

David Ramsden added that each element had been discussed at the Secondary Heads meeting. There had been good support for the VCG and investment in LALs. The LALs had been reduced in past years and impacted negatively upon the deficit. There had been support for Therapeutic Thinking however, it was felt that evaluation of the service was required. David Ramsden explained that there had been a little less support for the appointment of two ASD Teaching Assistants (TAs). David Ramsden reported that he understood that this was needed within schools however, there was uncertainty that two higher level TAs was enough to address the problem and the impact would be difficult to evaluate.

Julia Mortimore stressed the importance of evaluation and that she would find it hard to support a 0.25% transfer, however, would support a smaller transfer that would need to be evaluated in a year’s time. Gemma Piper stated that a key aspect was to understand goals and what was being achieved by spend. She was uncertain if the funding would reduce the deficit long term or just meet needs.

Ian Pearson reported that officers had tried to provide information on the evaluation of services as part of the de-delegation and high needs proposals. Some services were new such as the Therapeutic Thinking Services and evaluation was based on feedback from schools and success rates in others areas across the country. Michelle Sancho added that the exclusion rate was lower than it had been for four years and this indicated the impact that the service was having. Michelle Sancho also added that she was also aware of permanent exclusions that had not taken place as a result of support for the VCF. Evaluation information would be available in a year’s time. If schools and children could be better supported in mainstream schools, then this would help address the pressure being placed on the HNB.

Jonathon Chishick stated that as far as he understood money the would be used to help support children with high needs in mainstream schools.  This would however, not help reduce the current deficit on the HNB. He felt that a new model was required that maybe charged schools based on use. He felt that the 0.25% would not have a large enough impact on the deficit.

Jonathon Chishick continued by stating that he had heard Headteachers say that they did not want to top slice by 0.25% however, also that the services being provided were extremely important. David Ramsden disagreed and stated that in past a move had been made to charge schools for services and as a result schools had faced severe difficulties and therefore attempts to reduce this deficit with this approach had been unsuccessful. Michelle Sancho reported that she was aware of situations where Headteachers had been faced with complex needs but had been unable to buy into the service that could provide the support required.

Ian Pearson stated that there was a significant issue being faced across the board regarding the pressure on the area of high needs. He acknowledged Jonathon Chishick’s point about a model that charged schools for use however, stated that although this could be applied to the proposed ASD TAs and Therapeutic Thinking Service it could not be applied to the LALs to VCF.

Gemma Piper referred to the deficit recovery plan that would hopefully include outcomes for spend. It was important to clarify the reasoning behind the SEND Strategy and assess impact overtime. Ian Pearson reported that all elements contained within the SEND Strategy had been raised by schools and the four areas proposed as invest to save initiatives had been shortlisted.

The Chairman invited members of the Schools’ Forum to consider recommendations one to five under section 2.1 of the report. David Ramsden proposed that the recommendations be agreed and this was seconded by Catie Colston. At the vote the motion was carried.

It was proposed that the sixth recommendation concerning a 0.25 transfer should be deferred until after the next item on the HNB had been discussed.

RESOLVED that

1)    Recommendations one to five under section 2.1 of the report were agreed.

2)    Recommendation six would be considered under the HNB item (item eight).

 

Supporting documents: