Mitigations, Savings and Best Value For Send – Forewarnings of Send Cut Backs in Bristol

Bristol Send Funding News: Bristol City Council’s High Needs Funding is under the microscope with a plan of ‘mitigations’ due in September.

Concern was expressed at Bristol Schools Forum this week that the money being spent on Special Educational Needs (Send) could tip the city over the edge’.

Councillor Asher Craig, Deputy Mayor with responsibility for Children’s Services, Education and Equalities, made the statement in a part of the meeting where concerns around Bristol’s Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) were being discussed.

The DSG comes from the Department for Education (DfE) to fund individual school budgets in maintained schools and academies. It has four spending blocks within this: Schools, Central Schools Services, Early Years and High Needs Blocks.

Start delivering some savings as soon as we can.”

Bristol City Council

The High Needs Block – which is the cause for overspend – is the funding used for supporting children and young people with Send.

It’s been a troubling issue for most Local Authorities in England. But, Bristol has always been seen as a crisis within a crisis, causing a former Cabinet lead for Education – Anna Keen, to say in July 2019: ‘There is clear Government underfunding, however, Bristol has deeply concerning issues that go beyond the experiences of many other Local Authorities.’

The ‘deeply concerning issues’ is something Bristol has failed to get a grip on, with costs spiraling despite many Send pupils in the city being unable to access education.

The DSG in Bristol has a management plan, with Bristol Schools Forum hearing a monitor update filled with strong messages around ‘Best value for Send’, ‘mitigations’ and ‘knock this on its head’.

Bristol City Council Finance Manager, Angel Lai, updated Forum members with news that Director of Education, Alison Hurley had been ‘working through some mitigation plans’ a DSG management plan and engaging with the DfE on ‘delivering best value for Send’.

Lai said the ‘carry forward cumulative overspend of 40.2 million pounds. which is significant.’

Continuing: “So the biggest pressure still remains to be in top up funding where in the first quarter of the financial year, the mainstream school top ups is envisaging a £4.8 million pound overspend, followed by special schools – £3.5 million. GFE £1.8. And out of Local Authority areas about half a million pounds. So that’s totaling up to about £10.6 million in total.

The issue of Education Health Care Plans (EHCP) and Needs Assessment requests was also raised an area of concern for the council in the DSG update.

“The number of requests of EHCP assessment and the number of children have the plan has been increasing and is on that trajectory of increasing as well,” Lai said. “And we based our first forecasts on last year’s panel outcomes. So potentially this could deteriorate without you know mitigations. So this is a do nothing scenario obviously. Alison has mentioned working through mitigation plans and engaging with the ESFA on you know delivering best value for Send.”

Delivering best value for Send

Bristol City Council

Lai told Forum members that the issues were “a challenge for everyone and we need to work together, we need your support and input to work creatively and closely together to get us on a sustainable footing.”

The clear message was that the council needed to “Start delivering some savings as soon as we can.”

Chair of Bristol Schools Forum and Head of Bristol Brunel Academy, Sarah Lovell asked what the council needed from the Forum to support the DSG Management Plan.

Outgoing Director of Education, Alison Hurley said that when Forum met again in September, there would be more details around the ‘mitigations’ which a task and finish group would be working on.

But, “that they would need to ‘drive forward the sort of narrative around the fact that this is sector-led, so this isn’t just about it being a Local Authority holding on to the funding.”

Continuing, Hurley said: “Things have to change right the way through the sector in order for this to be able to, you know to bring that deficit down. How do we, you know, protect outcomes, think about the way that we’re funding, make sure that we’re not creating any gaps or overlap of funding and that it is really targeted in the right areas. And that we use things like and you know Forum’s been great in terms of identifying funding to try and do things differently, to think about how to really focus on that early intervention and support.

“We’ve just seen it through passing that £250 for Early Years. You know, Early Years leaders have some really good ideas about how they could do things differently to make sure needs are met earlier and prevent the the need for escalation. And that’s just that’s not just from a financial perspective, that’s from you know, an outcomes perspective for those individual children.

“So really thinking about how we hold this as a Forum you know, for all of you representing the sector. I think most important bit because we can only do so much as a Local Authority. It’s going to take what’s actually happening in schools and settings and how we message that maybe more widely across the sector. And so if we if we look at particular areas of spend you know we are going in a direction that is not sustainable so really thinking about how we how we bring that back down.”

Lovell replied: “We’ll perhaps give some thought over the holidays in relation to how we can support further because like you say it’s it’s it’s a whole team effort in relation to getting this down but making sure that we still provide the support that pupils need.”

When thrown open to the floor for questions, Pupil Referral Unit Governor Rep for Northstar, Richard Penska asked about the ‘trajectory around EHCPS.

He said: “I recognise that trend and it’s increasing, but I just guess I really want to know how much of that is, we’ve still got a latent problem with the backlog of EHCP. This is going to get worse before it gets better.”

One of the pieces of work that we’re doing with our schools and with our SendCos is to look at what we think is you know genuine Special Educational Needs and what we think is a product of having a fractured education for the last two years”

Alison Hurley

Hurley replied: “Part of its to do with the backlog, but actually what we’re seeing is that it’s, we’re also looking at the new requests coming in. So even even if we cleared all of the backlog we still are having an extraordinary number of requests coming in and we’ve had a few months now where requests have tipped over 100. Which is just you know it’s significantly higher than anything we’ve seen before.

“I think there is a genuine impact from from COVID in terms of you know young people’s needs and what that fractured school system has done in terms of learning. So one of the pieces of work that we’re doing with our schools and with our SendCos is to look at what we think is you know genuine Special Educational Needs and what we think is a product of having a fractured education for the last two years and where can we really direct some of the other funding that’s coming into school such as the catch-up funding and the tutoring program and you know, even some of the the mental health funding that’s going into schools as well.

So it is a slight, it is partly latent, it’s partly the demand we’re seeing right the way across all Local Authorities regardless of where their backlog is. I’m not seeing it slow down in a way that we would maybe have anticipated.”

I look forward to seeing what comes out of that paper and working with the sector to really knock this on its head.”

Asher Craig

Asher Craig joined in with council concerns regarding the DSG saying: “If there’s anything that keeps me up – and I’ve been doing this gig for a very long time – DSG is the only thing that keeps me up at night okay. And it’s good to hear this has to be a collective effort by all.

“I don’t want to downplay that the DSG could potentially tip us over the edge if we even increase any more above the £14/£15 million overspend on top of our deficit. So I do know that not only we as a Local Authority, the Mayor has made it quite clear you know, we’re looking at our numbers with some granularity.

“I also want to, as part of the kind of mitigations as well, it’s really having that conversation with the Schools Forum and the wider school leadership about where we can hold on more to our children with SEN needs. Because I’m still trying to work out why the demand for EHCPS is so high – and it doesn’t look like it it’s gonna get any better it’s just getting worse.

“So we need to understand what is driving the need for parents to kind of seek an EHCP and then we ourselves as the local authority also have to look at the spend particularly on the High Needs Block. We to look at our spend and also make sure that we are trying to reduce that spend over the years and not just accounting for that spend based on the decision that we’ve made in year one .

“So for example, we could be paying £250,000 pounds a year for a child and that is the budget for the next five years . We need to make sure that where that child could potentially step down that also means that the budget should be stepping down as well. So there’s a lot of work to be done on all sides but I look forward to seeing what comes out of that paper and working with the sector to really knock this on its head.”

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