Bristol Schools Forum Agrees Transfer for Send Improvement Plan

Bristol Schools Forum £1.3M Transfer Approved:

A programme to improve the Send crisis in Bristol took a step closer to realisation after Bristol Schools Forum agreed to transfer £1.3M towards the plan at a meeting last night.

The System-Wide Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (Send) and Inclusion Improvement plan, will benefit from the ring-fenced funding, which will come from a 0.5 per cent transfer from the Schools Block to the High Needs Block (HNB).

Download PDF: Education Transformation Plan Bristol

The Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) is where the funding for schools comes from and is from where the money will be taken. Local authorities are allowed to move up to 0.5 per cent of the budget allocated to them to ‘areas of greatest need’. In Bristol, 0.5 per cent of the budget comes to just over £1.3M.

Bristol schools were consulted in December 2019 about aspects of the DSG for 20/21. This included whether the 0.5 per cent should be moved between the blocks. Only 39 (25 per cent) of Bristol Schools – which included all-through, primary, pupil referral unit, secondary and special – responded to the consultation.

A total of 82 per cent of the responses agreed to the 0.5 per cent being moved. Seven schools disagreed.

One primary school responding with a ‘no’ stated: ‘I would like to see funding remaining in the schools block for schools to use towards support high needs children. We support a number of children with high needs but as a result of the changes to top up, it is not worth our time applying for top-up funding unless a child requires Band 3. It would be preferable to have the funding available to schools.’

Another wrote: ‘There is absolutely no KS1 provision and a lack of spaces at specialist provision for KS1 pupils. Therefore I would rather we had the money than continue (13 years and counting) deal with the lack of provision and poor school SEND funding.’

A primary school answering ‘yes’ replied: ‘I would support a small transfer as has been suggested but this should not be a bottomless pit. We realise the pressure on the High Needs Block but rather than continuously “bailing” out the High Needs budget we would like to see a real strategy by the High Needs team to improve efficiencies including things like reducing the number of placements out of county and into the private sector. And we would like to see the LA support the creation of new places in state schools.’

Ahead of last night’s meeting, Bristol City Council said: ‘Schools, like the council, recognise the urgent need to drive improvements in SEND in Bristol and will be supported so there is minimal short-term impact on the budgets of other education priorities.’

Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, Councillor Anna Keen said: “Like many other local authorities across England we are transforming a service which continues to see increasing demand while being critically underfunded by central government.

“Funding for SEND is a priority for us and we will continue to ask the government for fair and appropriate levels of funding that match our needs in Bristol; however this is of immense importance and we must act now, so are looking to make the necessary adjustments in our budget to ensure we can fund the programme now and drive improvements for the future.”

The “bailing” out of the HNB causing concern to some primary schools was echoed by forum members during the meeting. During a discussion about the proposed transfer, one member of the forum called for the money to be ring-fenced to key performance indicators (KPI) and service improvement.

He said: “Having sat here for the last three or four years, it seems to be we transfer the money, we come back next year, we transfer the money and we haven’t, in reality, seen any progress.” Calling for KPIs and ring-fencing to the transfer he continued: “Six months from now, nine months from now the schools can actually see what their money, they invested in, what the return is, the improvement in services, whatever the case may be. And if that doesn’t happen, then those funds go back to the schools.”

Bristol Schools Forum agreed to the ring-fenced 0.5 per cent transfer specifically for the transformation plan, but concern remains regarding the HNB.

Bristol’s HNB will be getting an increase of £6.74M – a 13 per cent from central government investment into Send. But current spend levels in 19/20 shows that the block continues to be under pressure, with no additional funding for historic shortfalls and accelerated budget spends.

The original transformation improvement plan first came to Bristol Schools’ Forum with Executive Director for People, Dr Jacqui Jensen and new Education Director Alison Hurley, on the 25 September 2019, where it was derided by forum members with one saying it had the strategic direction of a “four-year-old’s Christmas list.”

Hurley returned to Bristol Schools’ Forum on 26 November 2019, with a fully detailed and costed plan for the improvement programme which focused on a ‘complete overhaul of all statutory and non-statutory processes related to SEND’.

Bristol City Council says the ‘budget boost’ funding the improvement plan will address the Ofsted/Care Quality Commission (CQC) Inspection findings. The report has forced Bristol City Council to submit a Written Statement of Action (WSoA)

The council has three months’ from the publication date of its Send inspection report to prepare its WSoA and submit it to Ofsted and the CQC – by the 23 March 2020 deadline. Last night, Alison Hurley said: “We are likely to submit that slightly earlier due to potential purdah issues with regard to the mayor elections.”

From the day the WSoA is submitted by the council, Ofsted and CQC will have ten days to decide whether the plan is ‘fit for purpose’. Once the plan has been approved, Bristol will be given authorisation to publish it, but until that point it will be embargoed.

The council will then have 18 months to deliver the improvements it plans to make, which will be monitored every three months by the DfE and NHS before Bristol is reinspected between October and November 2021.

Three areas of focus for future improvement were noted by Hurley as ‘co-production’ and ‘sustainable change’ as well as working in ‘partnership’ with schools.

Send data has been an issue which has plagued scrutiny and public and counsellor questions for a long time. This was something raised at the forum meeting during a verbal send update. A data cleansing exercise is going to take place, with Hurley acknowledging that Send data has ‘not always been 100 per cent reliable’. Work is underway  to set an ‘accurate baseline in which to demonstrate progress’. She also said of the forthcoming Sen 2 – the annual special educational needs survey for the DfE that the data Bristol City Council is reporting must be”absolutely accurate with regard to Send.”

A ‘full data dashboard for Send’ is being created for the council departments to analyse their own data as well as become more accessible in the future. There are plans to make sure that schools, settings and families are able to access the same information about performance.

The 0.5 per cent transfer as well as the education budget will be going to Cabinet on Tuesday 21 January 2020.

Papers to Cabinet state: ‘A significant proportion of the programme is directly related to High Needs, we are looking to move the permitted amount into the High Needs Block from The Schools Block in order to progress the improvements. The ESFA’s Schools Revenue Funding Operational Guide authorises a transfer of up to 0.5% in 2020/21 from the Schools Block to other blocks with Schools Forum approval and this flexibility has been optimised. This fund will need to be held in abeyance subject to further information being presented to the Forum on how the money will actually be spent, and milestone/success measured.’


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