To report the outcomes from the Government’s National Safety Valve Programme.
Cabinet Portfolio: Children and Young People
Strategic Directorate: Children and Young People’s Services
Consideration was given to a report that was submitted for pre-decision scrutiny ahead of the Cabinet Meeting to be held on 25 April 2022. As part of the Department of Education work to address long term challenges in the High Needs funding within the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG), a small number of identified local authorities including Rotherham had been invited to have a financial agreement known as a ‘Safety Valve.’ The key emphasis for Rotherham’s involvement in this programme was ensuring that more children with special needs can be supported to stay in mainstream education in the borough. Rotherham involvement also allowed appropriate Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) provision mapping in the borough to be developed and improve SEND outcomes. The finalised agreement set out an investment of £20.528m from the Department for Education across the lifetime of the agreement (2021/22 to 2025/26). This would remove the DSG deficit based on the Council’s revenue assumptions.
It was highlighted that the Council was not unique, and a significant number of local authorities were facing challenges in respect high needs funding and DSG deficits. As part of the safety valve programme, capital bids had been submitted to support plans as significant investment was required to deliver the plan as outlined in the report. The financial targets as detailed had been met and it was anticipated that the position in future years would be on track.
Invitation to participate in the programme was dependent on local authorities having developed strategic plans to tackle the deficit and being able to demonstrate a positive trajectory in its financial position. Through the additional investment released, more children with additional needs could be educated and supported within the borough. Stakeholders, including school leaders had been fully engaged in the developments.
The work undertaken by Children and Young People’s Services and stakeholders to reduce the deficit, map provision and transform services was warmly welcomed.
Clarification was sought on the development of alternative education provision and the impact this would have on supporting children with challenging behavioural needs in mainstream provision. It was noted that a Green Paper on SEND and alternative provision had been recently published, and the mapping of future provision in Rotherham is closely aligned with the aspirations set out by Government. It was highlighted that there would be a continuum of support to ensure appropriate input would be offered on a timely basis at the right level. This would include primary outreach service for social and emotional mental health needs (SEMH) and a similar service in secondary schools would come on-line from September 2022. Pupil referral unit provision would be shorter term to support those who could be reintegrated into a mainstream setting or identify if other provision was required. For pupils with more complex or specialist needs, a SEMH Free School would come onstream shortly.
The funding elements of the safety valve programme were expanded upon. In respect of Rotherham’s bid, the DfE had released funds to reduce the historic revenue deficit and also to support a dedicated team to manage related developments. Through the delivery of the SEND sufficiency strategy and management plan, there had been a steady reduction in Rotherham’s deficit over recent years, unlike in many other authorities. However, Rotherham’s delivery of the programme was predicated on approval of the capital bid.
It was noted that the Audit Committee had received regular updates on the DSG and the External Auditor was satisfied that the plans to manage the deficit were robust. It was asked that the Audit Committee be kept up to date on developments.
It was acknowledged that further work needed to take place with schools to ensure that early identification and a graduated response were in place to ensure that the appropriate level of support and resource was in place. It was noted that the Green Paper was helpful in strengthening support. Stakeholders would be engaged to develop the response to the consultation on the Green Paper, including the Parent’s Carer’s Forum. The forum has been closely involved in the co-production of services. The Council was committed to seeking best practice and share this with schools and academies and other local authorities.
It was noted that the terminology of the report did not articulate in plain language what this initiative would mean for the ‘lived experience’ of children and young people with special needs and their families. A commitment was given that this would be looked at to see how this initiative could be communicated in a more accessible way.
Clarification was sought on the democratic oversight of the decision to engage in the safety valve process and if it should have been made by Cabinet or through officer delegation. It was outlined that the governance arrangements were in line with those set out in the Council’s Constitution and Scheme of Delegation and were strictly adhered to.
1. That Cabinet be advised that the recommendations be supported.
2. That Audit Committee be provided with further updates on the implementation of the programme.