The Government has announced relief of £25 million for South Gloucestershire Council against an historical overspend on supporting children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) as part of a wider improvement plan.
The funding will be delivered over the next four years, with the first instalment of £10.5 million this year tied to the implementation of plans to improve the quality and efficiency of the way we support pupils with SEND over the next four years.
Our SEND Strategy sets out how the council will work with both mainstream and special schools in the district, as well as parents and carers of young people with additional needs, to provide better services for those children. At the same time, we will address inefficiencies in our local arrangements for SEND that have led to the major overspend, realigning expenditure with targeted support to meet need and provide greater benefit for children in the longer-term.
The £25 million is related to a part of schools funding called the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG). This is a grant provided to local authorities by the Department for Education, which consists of four blocks:
• The Schools block provides direct funding to schools and academies.
• The Central Schools Services block funds statutory duties of the council relating to schools.
• The High Needs block supports provision for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities, Alternative Provision and for pre-16 pupils who, because of medical reasons, exclusion, or other reasons, cannot receive their education in mainstream or special schools.
• The Early Years block provides funding to support Early Years Education.
For many years, the council’s expenditure on special educational needs has been significantly more each year than the funding available in the High Needs Block, resulting in an end of year deficit, which will reach a total of £33.1 million by the end of the year. This deficit is rolled over to the following year and has continued to grow as the population of children with special educational needs and therefore demand for services has increased. The current position is that South Gloucestershire has one of the highest cumulative deficits for High Needs nationally.
The council and local schools recognise that this position is unsustainable and have therefore been working together with the support of the local Schools Forum to devise a plan – a Deficit Recovery Plan. The plan objectives are to support improved access to services from birth for children identified as having additional and/or special educational needs in early years; improve capacity for local specialist provision; and address inefficiencies in expenditure. This plan seeks to ensure that the limited financial resources support improvements in local arrangements by targeting resources more effectively according to need and more efficiently across the whole system. The aim is to improve local arrangements whilst at the same time ensure that in the future the expenditure each year does not exceed the funding available through the High Needs Block.
The council has also campaigned to have the historic deficit on SEND expenditure recognised as a national issue rather than a local one and in recent years, the Government have recognised that the cumulative deficit in some councils is now so high that they are prepared to provide financial support to address this in part. This is conditional on councils being able to demonstrate that they have a deficit recovery plan which is deliverable because it has the support of the majority of schools and providers in the local area. Some councils have been invited to take part in the government “Safety Valve” process which provides access to funding to address the cumulative deficit built up over years. South Gloucestershire Council was invited to participate in the current round of the Safety Valve process and to demonstrate that we had a credible and deliverable Deficit Recovery Plan which had the support of the local Schools Forum.
The Government has announced that South Glos will be included in the Safety Valve process with financial support of £25 million commencing with £10.5 million in the current financial year.
At the same time as developing our Plan, the council has been lobbying Government for additional funding for our schools. This has involved working as part of the F40 group of lowest funded councils for schools and individually with the support of our local MPs. This has resulted in South Glos receiving proportionately higher increases in funding than the average council for school funding.
South Gloucestershire Council’s Cabinet Member for Education, Skills and Employment, Councillor Erica Williams, said: “This is excellent news. Without this injection of £25m the burden of recovering this element of our deficit would have fallen on our schools and the Council.
“As a result of our demonstrating a robust plan to Government, I am pleased that in addition to this announcement, we have also received increased Government funding for schools in our area for the coming year. In 2022/23, schools funding for the district will rise by more than £12 million, of which £5 million will go directly towards helping pupils with SEND and helping us close the gap between what we spend on supporting them and the annual amount of funding we get.
“There is still much work for us to do as we must stay on track with our Recovery Plan to continue receiving tranches of the £25m and the council is extremely grateful to all schools and partners who have worked together to devise the Plan which has helped us to secure this additional funding.
“Through the Recovery Plan we will focus on establishing local arrangements to deliver excellent provision of services to all children with special educational needs from birth, responding effectively to meeting their needs, and to do this without exceeding the funding provided by the government each year for that purpose.
“We are committed to raising school standards for all pupils, with and without additional needs, and the additional funding we have secured will help us to achieve that, along with our work to secure new schools where they are needed, improve existing school buildings and to deliver a step-change in the way we support those who need extra help.”
The Dedicated Schools Grant Safety Valve agreement between Government and South Gloucestershire Council is published here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1062019/South_Gloucestershire_SV_agreement.pdf