This report provides the Committee with details of the High Needs Block deficit and the recovery plan to address the deficit.
The Assistant Director, Education and SEND introduced the report which set out the Council’s recovery plan to address the High Needs Block (HNB) deficit. The High Needs Block was one of the four main blocks of funding of the Dedicated Schools Grant and provided funding for pupils requiring high levels of educational need and/or disability. It was explained that the HNB was under pressure in most Councils
Members then raised a number of questions and comments, which included:
· Graduated approach, banding system and ceasing non-EHCP top ups – extra information was requested on these particular strands of the recovery plan. Officers explained that these three areas were not significant in terms of addressing the deficit but were significant in making the whole system fairer.
o The graduated approach was to ensure all schools are clear on what they needed to do before getting additional support from the HNB via an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). It may reduce EHCPs slightly but would make the system fairer.
o The banding system – this would be an extension of the graduated approach and would set out clearly what the needs need to be identified as, when they sit in a different band. Implementation of this had been delayed due to the pandemic but it was due to be implemented in April 2022. It was acknowledged a banding system had previously existed but had been ambiguous and not consistently applied across Medway schools.
o Non-EHCP top ups – these had been where the Council had funded schools for a particular need to avoid an EHCP. However, this had largely failed as the schools often then continued with an EHCP referral. Therefore there was an effort to greatly reduce these top ups and for them only to be use in exceptional circumstances where a child needs short term additional support.
· Government assistance – Members were very supportive of the local authority approach central Government for additional funding and support to meet the growing demand and pressure. Officers confirmed that they had met with the Education and Skills Funding Agency, along with the Chief Finance Officer and had been very firm and clear about the difficulties faced by the Council and the inadequate funding being provided by Central Government. It was added that the local MPs were also lobbying on behalf of the Council
· Timescales for EHCPs – concern was raised with regard to the length of time it takes in putting an EHCP in place for a child and the impact on the funding available for that child and therefore the resources available to them in school. Officers confirmed that EHCPs were usually done within 26 weeks and that if the schools were reasonably unable to provide additional support to a child before an EHCP is put in place then the Council would still provide top-up funding in such cases.
· Monitoring of the delivery plan – officers assured the Committee that the delivery plan was being tightly monitored by the Leader of the Council, Chief Finance Officer, Chief Executive, Director of People and other senior staff in the education division.
· Schools Forum – it was confirmed that the deficit was the responsibility of the Council and not the Schools Forum, however, the Schools Forum was well briefed on the issue and had been supportive in agreeing the top slice funding.
The Committee noted the report.