Report of the Head of Education and Learning (CS/17/30).
The Committee considered a Report from the Head of Education and Learning (CS/17/30) on Special Educational Needs funding arrangements in schools following the development of plans to make some changes to the funding arrangement in the future.
The number of requests for statutory assessments had increased by 99% in the past eight months which was due to a number of factors including, inclusion of the Further Education sector, use of SEN assessments to attract further funding, parental preference and demographic change.
Non-statutory funding was introduced by the Local Authority in April 2014 with the aim of increasing school funding, thereby reducing the need for statutory assessment for children with lower level or short term Special Educational Needs. The large increase in statutory assessment had shown that this strategy had not worked. The Council had also seen a sharp rise in the number of requests for additional funding to support pupils who did not have a statutory assessment.
The cost of non-statutory plans had risen from £275,000 in 2014/15 to £3,200,000 in the 2016/17 financial year. There were 800 pupils currently on a non-statutory plan, with the average cost in a mainstream school at £4,785 compared to an average cost of a statutory plan of £4,383. Therefore, if a child’s needs required this level of funding on a non-statutory plan, they should have the protection that a full statutory plan offers and schools should have the consistency, openness and transparency that the statutory process provided.
The Head of Service explained that funding was controlled by the Department for Education and managed by the local authority; however it was not Devon County Council’s budget, but ring-fenced for the Dedicated Schools Grant. This funding was divided into three areas: the Schools Block, which was funding given directly to schools; the High Needs Block to deliver the Council’s responsibility to support children with SEN; and the Early Year’s Block, which included the 30 hours free childcare provision. Whilst there was some flexibility to move funds between the blocks, the overall funding available from the Department for Education remained the same and under no circumstances could the Council overspend on this budget.
In responding to questions from Members, the Head of Service:
· clarified that there would be no cut in actual SEN funding available;
· confirmed that statutory assessments did not need to be completed by January 2018, but a request had to be submitted by then;
· explained that once requested, no child would lose any funding until an assessment had been completed;
· advised that the same information used to create a non-statutory plan was required to complete a statutory assessment, schools should have this information on file and a plan already in place;
· explained that the £44m budget to support SEN was not changing, and that changes to the process would only affect the 800 pupils currently on a non-statutory plan;
· confirmed that of those 800 pupils affected, 200 additional requests for statutory assessments had already been received;
· advised that a Statutory Plan/Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) protected funding and ensured that necessary steps were in place to protect the pupil;
· confirmed that the Council would continue to work with schools to support any child currently on a non-statutory plan that did not receive an EHCP, although it was felt this would be a very small proportion of the 800 pupils given the level of support and funding already received;
· informed Members that the funding used for the transitioning of statements to EHCPs was a separate budget and used to employ staff to complete this transfer by March 2018;
· stated that schools had been consulted on this process through representatives on the Schools Finance Group and the SENCO Practitioners groups;
· apologised for misunderstandings that had occurred following the initial letter sent to schools on 18 July 2017;
· agreed that further communication with parents and schools would be undertaken to clarify these changes and provide some assurance to families, including a key facts document for SENCOs and a document to each school outlining all levels of funding and how this should be allocated within schools, and working with Parent Carer Voice in Devon to improve communication with parents;
· ensured that further communication would also be made with Members in the future to make sure they were up to date with any changes before proposals were made public.
It was MOVED by Councillor Hannaford and SECONDED by Councillor Sellis and
RESOLVED that a masterclass session on SEN funding and budgets be held for all Members and that an update be provided at the next Committee Meeting so that Members were kept informed of the progress and were fully aware of any concerns or issues that may arise.