South Gloucestershire Cabinet will next week consider new proposals to fund higher quality and better value for money provision for pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).
The new option has been developed following extensive consultation late last year with schools and families with children who need additional help to achieve their full potential.
The new National Funding Formula for schools will see funding for South Gloucestershire increase by £3.9m next year – bringing our Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) to a total of £207.952m. However despite this funding increase, the council receives the lowest per-pupil funding in the country, while at the same time both locally and nationally, the demand for help for children with additional needs is growing significantly. While we continue to lobby Ministers for fairer funding, we are required to reduce and eventually eliminate the budget deficit, which is expected to rise to around £12.5million by the end of 2018/19 and we are committed to doing so.
A principal driver of these extra cost increases has been our inability to ensure that children with SEND can have their needs met locally either in a mainstream school or special school. The availability of local places have not kept pace with such rapidly increasing demand for complex support and so increasingly children have been found places further afield and in often costly independent institutions.
The funding provided to the council to fund schools is split into several ‘Blocks’ and options for how best to deploy this increased resource were consulted upon in 2018. Consultation options included transferring £3million from the ‘Schools Block’ (which funds mainstream school activities) to the ‘High Needs Block’ (which is allocated to support pupils with additional needs). A second option was not to make the transfer, but instead reduce funding to Special Schools and other services the council funds to provide extra help to pupils in need, such as the Pupil Referral Unit. Additionally, the council consulted on the speed at which it changed the way it allocates funds for extra help for pupils with SEND to mainstream schools by using a Ready Reckoner. This is a relatively new way that the council is using to calculate Top-Ups (additional funding provided to schools to allow them to support pupils with more complex SEND needs). This would form part of the way we could reduce escalating costs because locally and nationally those prices have escalated significantly in recent years. Thirdly, the council consulted on a hybrid option, to transfer half of the £3million from the ‘Schools Block’ to the ‘High Needs Block’ and to implement the Ready Reckoner over two years instead of one, in order to make the necessary savings.
Feedback from schools and families with children with additional needs was positive, in that we had a series of detailed discussions and that the response rate was high, but did not indicate a clear preference for any of the options. Also, in December last year the Government announced an additional £1.2million to help meet the increasing demand for SEND support in South Gloucestershire over the next two years. The new option takes this extra money into account, as well as the consultation feedback.
That is why the Council will not be transferring any new mainstream School funding to the High Needs Block during 2019/20, which will maximise mainstream school budgets as far as is possible for next year.
In relation to the speed with which we implement changes to the Top-Up calculations, we have listened to concerns that making this change too rapidly could create funding turbulence and impact on support provided to SEND pupils and has opted for the slowest pace of implementation it had consulted on, over three years.
The new option will mean recovering the DSG deficit more slowly, but it is hoped that the new proposals will address the concerns expressed by both schools and families during the consultation process. We are also pleased that school leaders and parent/carer groups have said they are keen to work in partnership on this issue and work together with us to identifying solutions to bring funding stability to SEND spending in South Gloucestershire.
Leader of South Gloucestershire Council and Cabinet Member for Schools, Skills & Employment, Councillor Toby Savage, said: “The council’s number one priority is to improve school standards and for every child to achieve their potential and that means providing the vital support that pupils with SEND need to thrive.
“The current inability of our local education system to deliver consistently good outcomes for all children with SEND and their families, whilst providing good value for the taxpayer, means that change is needed – we have got to get better at all working together.
“Funding is increasing and through our consultation process we have listened to schools and to families – those who know their children the best – and the new proposals will allow us to meet our responsibilities to support our young people who most need our help.”
“We are investing in new specialist school places locally and working more closely than ever with our existing schools to ensure that more children with SEND can have their needs met closer to home, whilst securing value for money to the taxpayer.
“Whilst we welcome the extra government funding, we continue to campaign hard for fairer funding for all of our schools and pupils.”