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Agenda item

Children and Young People's Services Budget Monitoring - High Needs Finance Update and Budget Sustainability Options

 

Cabinet Portfolio:                 Children’s Services and Neighbourhood Working

Strategic Directorate:           Children and Young People’s Services

Minutes:

Consideration was given to a report which summarised the increase in the number of Education and Health Care Plans, the growth in demand for specialist provision and the financial position in 2018/19 of the High Needs Block of the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) and the revised cumulative deficit. The paper outlined the recent growth in volume through increased demand for special educational places and the impact on cost was compared against previous years.

 

It was reported that the High Needs Block Recovery Plan aimed to bring in-year expenditure in line with the annual budget allocation and focus on a longer term plan which would contribute to reducing the cumulative deficit.

 

Members sought to understand the complexity of the challenges in the borough and how that compared to other authorities nationally. In response, the Strategic Director explained that the position was dictated by complexity of need. He considered that Rotherham MBC was now able to identify needs more effectively and had experienced a sharper increase in need compared to other areas.

 

Clarification was sought in respect of the impact of removing 1.5% of the Schools Block funding. In response it was confirmed that there had been an increase and that the Growth Fund was in excess of the needs of Rotherham schools. It was further confirmed that no schools had been adversely affected and there would only be an impact if pupil numbers drop.  

 

Members sought assurances that the approach adopted by the Council was leading to better outcomes for children. The Strategic Director indicated the preference was always to keep children within the borough and in local provision, as there was confidence that outcomes would be stronger. He advised that he was confident in the skill set and capacity in the borough, but counselled that the right level of capacity had not necessarily been enabled at the present time. Too many children and young people were going to specialist providers outside of the borough. To that end, the Strategic Director advised that the Council would want as high a percentage to be in mainstream settings with additional support, which would lead to better outcomes.

 

Members queried whether any other authorities had sought approval from the Department for Education in Whitehall for disapplications in respect of funding pressures. In response, it was confirmed that a significant number of councils had approached the Secretary of State for Education and an announcement in respect of additional funding had been made in December 2018 with a view to reducing the number of disapplications.

 

In response to a technical question in respect of accounting, it was confirmed that the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) had its own specific reserve, which accrued year on year and was not linked to the General Fund or had any impact on specific reserves.

 

Members sought to understand the position of the Schools Forum on the paper and how the forum had commented on capacity to support children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities. The Strategic Director confirmed that the Schools Forum had supported the proposal and reflected on the expression of common intent by the Forum and the Strategic Educational Partnership to do better for those students and create new types of provision, with enhanced supported units.

 

Clarification was sought in respect of how the Council could influence the number of exclusions from school. In response, the Deputy Leader of the Council explained that significant work had been done through the Virtual School on emotionally friendly schools. Training had taken place with individual members staff in respect of emotional health and wellbeing and those schools which had participated had reduced the number of exclusions generally.

 

Once again, Members sought to understand what alternative plans were in place if the Council did not succeed in achieving the return of children to the borough or if demand outstripped pace. In response, the Strategic Director was very confident that the measures proposed were the right thing to do, however confidence on reducing the whole deficit was difficult to answer, due to unpredictable demand. Members expressed their appreciation for the honesty of the response from the Strategic Director and understood that this was a long challenge. The Deputy Leader also indicated that the Council’s approach had his full support.  

 

Resolved:-

 

That a further report be submitted in six months detailing the progress made against the High Needs Block.

Supporting documents: