Revered Mark Bennet stated that he wanted to raise two points in relation to the Forward Plan for the Schools’ Forum. Firstly he referred to the deficit faced by the High Needs Block (HNB) and queried what the intended timescale was for work being undertaken to produce a deficit recovery plan.
Secondly Reverend Bennet felt that it would be useful for a report to be brought to a future meeting of the Forum on the impact of Covid19 on funding of West Berkshire Schools, particularly regarding mental health issues and whether vulnerable groups were being reached. Reaching such groups was an area that had been politically criticised in West Berkshire in the past.
Reverend Bennet also queried if the implications of the announcement from Government regarding provision over the summer, would be brought to the July Forum meeting for discussion.
Ian Pearson referred to the points raised by Reverend Mark Bennet. Firstly regarding the HNB and a deficit recovery plan, a further report would be brought to the Forum meeting in July 2020 if capacity allowed. The Covid19 situation had placed increased pressure on the Special Educational Needs, Inclusion and Disabled Children Team and this was the reason why the report had been deferred from the June Forum meeting.
Ian Pearson further explained that there were two parts to the recovery plan. The first part related to projects funded in the current year as part of an Invest to Save initiative. Some of these projects if successful had the potential to be ramped up in order to deliver increased savings. The second part related to the implementation of the SEN Strategy, which had previously been discussed at the Forum and provided an overall approach to addressing and supporting special educational needs.
Ian Pearson highlighted that the recovery plan required by the Department for Education DfE would not just cover the HNB but the whole of the DSG and therefore in West Berkshire’s case would include recovery of the deficit in the Early Years Block.
Reverend Mark Bennet noted that a report was due to come to the next Forum however, it was possible that this could slip due to the pressures caused by Covid19. Ian Pearson confirmed that staff were doing their best within the resources that were available.
Ian Pearson referred to the second point raised by Reverend Mark Bennet regarding the impact of Covid19 on West Berkshire schools, and felt that it would be helpful to have a discussion on this at the next Forum, particularly regarding cost pressures. Some of these pressures were falling directly on schools and Ian Pearson was aware that some cost pressures would be reimbursable through Government arrangements however, there was no certainty regarding which pressures this would include. The pandemic would also impact on end of year balances for individual schools and across the DSG funding blocks. He explained that the Council was facing other pressures that were not part of the DSG as a result of the pandemic including on areas such as home to school transport. The Council had received some funding for the impact of Covid19 and it would be interesting to see how this was being applied to young people. The Council had used its own funding to provide laptops for young people who had not benefited from the Government’s Laptop Project.
Regarding support for vulnerable groups, Ian Pearson reported that he was aware anecdotally that schools in the district were doing a great job at keeping in touch with vulnerable families and many vulnerable children had been invited back to school.
Regarding Reverend Mark Bennet’s final point concerning learning over the summer, there were two issues. Firstly support for vulnerable families and secondly loss of learning. The Secretary of State was due to make an announcement regarding a comprehensive programme of catch-up in the coming week.
It was agreed that a report on the impact of the Covid19 situation on schools should be brought to the next meeting of the Forum in July however, this would only be based on key areas of expenditure at this stage.
RESOLVED that a report would be brought to the next meeting of the Forum in July 2020 regarding the impact of Covid19 on West Berkshire schools and where the pressures were falling.