Schools’ Forum Meeting Minutes – 3 December 2020

Members present

Jo Budge – Executive Head Teacher of Reading Early Years Schools Federation; Justine McMinn – Head Teacher of E P Collier; Cathy Doberska – Head Teacher of English Martyrs; Peter Kayes – Governor at the Ridgeway; Richard Rolfe – Governor at Micklands (Chair); Dani Hall – Co-Chair of the Federation between Oxford Road Community School & Wilson School; Simon Uttley – Head Teacher of Blessed Hugh Faringdon; Karen Edwards – Head Teacher of The Heights; Jane Brown – Business Manager of Churchend (substitute); Isabelle Sandy – Business Manager of Kendrick; Claire Brown – Business Manager of Prospect School (substitute); Dorothy Company – Business Manager of Highdown School (substitute); Annal Nayyar – Finance Director of Bayliss Trust (Reading Girls); Louise Baker – Principal of JMA (substitute); Mark Hester – Cranbury College (substitute); Charlotte Morgan – Reading College; Alison McNamara – NEU.

Apologies

Julia Cottee – Governor at Reading Early Years Schools Federation; Robert Howell – Head Teacher of Alfred Sutton; Tonia Crossman – Head Teacher of Emmer Green; Lee Smith – Head Teacher of Holy Brook; Symon Cooke – Head Teacher of The Avenue; Ita McGullion – Manager of Kennet Day Nursery.

In attendance

Cllr Ashley Pearce – Lead Member for Education; Ann McDonnell – Business Manager of Blessed Hugh Faringdon; Kate Reynolds – Director of Education & Research; Deborah Glassbrook – Director of Children’s Services; Claire White – Schools & DSG Business Partner; Clare Warren – School Support Lead; Steven Davies – Strategic Business Partner; Siobhan Egan – Service Manager IT & Data Intelligence; Vanessa Hurdle – minute taker.

Agenda

Item 1 – Welcome and apologies – Chair

The Chair welcomed everyone to the meeting.

Claire White read out the protocol for the virtual meeting and confirmed who was eligible to vote and for which votes. Recording of the meeting commenced. The recording will be retained until the minutes have been approved.

Apologies were noted.

Item 2 – Minutes of the meeting held on 15 October 2020 – Chair

Minutes were agreed as an accurate record of the meeting from the 15 October 2020.

Matters arising:

  • Academy Membership – The Academies have still not confirmed who their fifth Secondary school member will be. Isabelle has not heard back from Ashley Robson, Head of Reading School. She will email him again. Richard confirmed that he would also be happy to contact Ashley.
  • Alternative Provision – The discussions that took place on this issue have resulted in a further paper being added to this Agenda as Item 9.

Item 3 – Schools’ Forum Membership Update – including confirmation of representation – Chair

Richard re-iterated that the Forum had full membership, apart from the name of the fifth Academy Secondary member.

Item 3 – DSG Budget Overview for 2021/22 – Schools/DSG Business Partner

Claire White Presented.

There is little to update since the last meeting on DSG funding for 2021/22.

The Growth Funding DSG allocation will be based on the same formula basis as previously. Using the draft October 2020 census data, it is expected that the allocation will fall to £0.845m. This is a reduction of £0.5m.

The Early Years funding for 2021/22 has still not been released. It usually comes out in mid-November but has been delayed due to the Spending Review at the end of November. The only information that has been released is that there will be an additional £44m to increase the hourly rate. This is £22m lower than the increase given in the current year and will probably equate to an increase of about 5p per hour, compared to 8p per hour increase this year.

It is not known what data will be used for the Early Years funding next year. The January 2021 census would normally be used. The figures for this period could be low but may pick up from the Spring term onwards when people have been vaccinated. This could, therefore, have a significant impact. Further details should be released by mid-December.

Jo Budge stated that Parliament had announced that day that there is £60m available for maintained nurseries for this year and that a longer-term permanent solution would be announced imminently.

The Schools’ Forum needs to decide on the transfer of funding from the Schools Block to the High Needs Block. All schools have been consulted on this issue (Consultation Paper is in Appendix 2). Table 4 shows the results of this consultation. Thirty nine per cent of mainstream schools responded, with 67% opting for option 2 – the transfer of £484k. 28% opted for option 1 – the transfer of £350k. Only one school voted in favour of no transfer of funds occurring.

It was explained that the funding would be ring-fenced and used for schools with a higher proportion of pupils with EHCPs. The Forum was asked to vote on the three options presented.

The result of the vote was: 13 votes for option 2 and 1 vote for option 1. None against (option 3).
AGREED to transfer £484k from the Schools Block to the High Needs Block in 2021/22.

The remaining part of the report is to establish the requirements to set the DSG budget for 2021/22.

The Schools Block budget will be set according to the decisions made on other reports during the meeting.

An additional £2m is expected for the High Needs Block, but this will largely be used on increases in numbers and costs of top-ups. Reading is also increasing the number of places in some of its settings, which needs to be built into the budget, and there are other further demands being placed on this block. It currently looks unlikely that the deficit will be reduced next year.

Although the additional funding has been confirmed for next year there is currently no confirmation of increases beyond 2021/22. The Government is currently reviewing the issue of High Needs funding, particularly in light of the fact that there are a number of LAs with very significant deficits.

A first draft of the HNB budget will be brought to the January meeting.

Indications are that it will be a minimal increase for the Early Years block, but the main question is which census will be used to base the funding on. Decisions on this block will be made at the March 2021 meeting.

Details of the Central Schools Block will be discussed at the January 2021 meeting. It is expected that the budget will match the funding available.

Isabelle asked if the plans to reduce the deficit were in any way still achievable. It was explained that it now looks as if it will not be possible to reduce the deficit either this year or next. The intention is, therefore, in the short term to try and cap the deficit at its current level, and if at all possible avoid significant increases.

Kate Reynolds confirmed that the Schools’ Forum would need to make any decisions on the High Needs block, and that keeping the deficit contained may have an impact on decisions.

The funding announced so far and requirements for setting the 2021/22 budget were NOTED.

Item 5 – School Funding Formula for 2021/22 – Schools /DSG Business Partner

Claire White presented.

This is very much the same report that was presented at the October 2020 meeting. It has been circulated to all schools for comment. No comments have been received so it has been assumed that schools are happy with the approach that is detailed in 4.8. This approach is to mirror the National Formula Funding as closely as possible. If there is a shortfall then all the factor values will be reduced by the same percentage. The minimum pupil funding levels and the minimum funding guarantee will be set as per the national levels.

Being able to closely mirror the national funding levels will depend on the pupil characteristic changes in the October 2020 census. The final data for this is due in a few weeks’ time. Currently it appears that deprivation has increased. The number of pupils entitled to Free School Meals has gone up. This may be a pressure on being able to achieve the national funding formula values. Also, transferring the higher amount from the schools’ block of funding to the high needs block will have an impact.

There is still no decision as to when the ‘hard’ formula will be implemented. The Consultation on this was due out before Christmas, but this has not yet happened. However, the Government is hoping to put into place for 2022/23 a central billing system for business rates. These will then be paid directly by the DFE to Local Authorities and not be part of the funding formula.

The Forum was, therefore, asked to vote on adopting the approach set out in 4.8.

14 members agreed the strategy proposed in 4.8 for setting the school formula, with none against

AGREED to the proposal set out in paragraph 4.8 to set the school formula in 2021/22.

Item 6 – Growth Fund for 2021/22 – Schools/DSG Business Partner

Claire White Presented.

The Growth Fund is intended for new schools, for schools that are expanding or for bulge years, all as a result of basic need and pre agreed by the local authority. The funding for this is included in the Schools Block but has a separate formula which is based on pockets of growth. The October 2019 census figures are compared with those of October 2020 to see if there has been pupil number growth in that area. Funding is then allocated according to the numbers of growth. If there has not been any growth or a reduction in pupil numbers, money is not deducted.

Reading’s actual growth in numbers for this year is lower. Funding for 2021/22 is, therefore, estimated to be £0.845m, which is a reduction of £0.5m. For 2018/19 Reading received £2m, so this is a substantial reduction over the last few years.

The Schools’ Forum is required to vote on this annually as the requirements will change year on year. The requirements for 2021/22 are as follows:

Primary – Civitas Academy will have its final year group added from September 2021. The new school at Green Park Village opened in September 2020 and will require funding for each year group added in the next six years.

Secondary – Highdown School will complete its expansion in 2021/22. A new school – River Academy – is due to open in September 2023. However, until this occurs bulge classes will be required – estimated at four in 2021/22 and six in 2022/23.

The funding in 2020/21 was based on the minimum per pupil funding levels in the school formula. These are £3,750 for primary and £5,000 for secondary. For 2021/22 the equivalent rates are £4,180 for primary and £5,415 for secondary. The reason for the large increase is because these rates include the teachers’ pay and pension grants. It is recommended that Reading uses these rates as they are used in the national formula funding. The budget requirement using these rates for 2021/22 will, therefore, be £971k. It has been estimated that in year funding will be £845k, with a further £109k from ESFA. This is to pay academies for the period April – August. It is also expected that there will be a carry forward of £623k. This means that there should be more than enough funding for 2021/22, but the surplus should be ringfenced and carried forward for future requirements such as the bulge classes and the new secondary school due to the uncertainty of future funding.

6.1 sets out the criteria for receiving funding from the Growth Fund. The budget to be set for 2021/22 is £1.577m, with £388k transferred to the school formula and the growth fund budget set at £1.189m with any underspends carried forward to 2022/23.

Isabelle wished it to be noted that Kendrick School had expanded and taken on an extra cohort and will be doing so for the next four years. The School has not received any support from the Growth Fund but has contributed significantly to help relieve the bulge classes problem. Kate Reynolds explained that she had met several times with representatives from Kendrick School on this issue. She had also pursued this matter with the Regional Schools’ Commissioner and the DFE, which referred the School to the ESFA. Isabelle thanked Kate for all her help in this area and confirmed that the ESFA would not provide any funding for Kendrick.

The Forum was asked to make two votes – the first on the criteria for the allocation of funding and the second on the actual amount to set for the budget.

14 members agreed the criteria as proposed in 6.1, with none against

12 members agreed the amounts as proposed in 6.2, with one member abstaining from the vote. None against.

AGREED to the growth fund criteria and budget as set out in paragraphs 6.1 and 6.2.

Item 7 – DSG Budget Monitoring 2020/21 – Month 8 – Schools/DSG Business Partner

Claire White presented.

There has not been any change to the DSG allocation since October’s meeting. All official notifications have now been received from ESFA, which match what had been predicted.

The only change that is now expected is Early Years as information has not yet been released as to how the Spring Term will be funded. In normal circumstances it should be based 7/12 on the January 2021 census. The Government has already stated that the Autumn Term is to be based on the January 2020 census.

The end of year position forecast as at Month 8 is a deficit of £1.477m. This has increased from the last meeting when the deficit was reported as £881k. Variances are shown in 4.3 but some of these underspends are ringfenced so do not reflect the true position. One example is the Growth Fund as the surplus here will be required in 2021/22. It is also highly likely that the Early Years’ contingency will be required and will decrease before the end of the Financial Year.

In the Early Years Block, providers have been funded for the Autumn Term using the October 2020 figures. If the figures were lower than those for the previous year, then the October 2019 figures were used. This has, therefore, resulted in a cost of £642k – £395k to PVI settings and £246k to schools. A third of this has come from contingency, the remainder being met by funding based on the January 2020 census rather than the usual January 2021. For the Universal Entitlement there were 318 children (13%) fewer than in October 2019, for the Extended Entitlement it’s 56 children (29%) less and for two year olds it’s 53 children (14%) fewer. This leaves £0.206m in contingency which does not leave much for further sufficiency payments to providers in Spring 2021 if Government funding is based on Spring figures.

The High Needs Top Up Funding is £464k over budget. As is shown in Table 4, the budget is £15.5m and is based on February 2020 data. Increases were predicted based on recent trends. It was estimated that EHCPs would increase by 100 and an increase of 2% was built in for inflation. The overspend is higher than what was reported at the previous meeting due to the Autumn Term changes having now worked their way through to the payment system. The biggest increase is in Independent Schools, which relates to 12 placements. There have also been a few placements which have been very high, at around £100k each. These had not been predicted or budgeted for.

It is expected that the Other Alternative Provision figure will reduce by the end of the financial year as it has been assumed that all pupils will be in their current placements until the end of the financial year, but this is not usually the case. The provision is usually temporary until something more permanent can be found. This, however, means that the figures in the other categories will increase as a placement is made.

This is still a better position than many other local authorities who are seeing their high needs deficits double in year.

The Inclusion Fund is funded by the transfer from the Schools Block to the High Needs Block. £350k has been transferred in 2020/21. Based on Autumn figures it is forecast that this budget will overspend by £150k. It is, therefore, proposed that the percentage used for calculating the number of EHCPs over which schools gets funded should be increased for the Autumn Term so that no overspending occurs. All schools that are eligible for this funding will still receive it, but at lower rate. As the Forum has now voted to increase the funding for this budget, higher funding can resume from the Summer Term.

Appendix 4 shows the updated Deficit Recovery Plan. The deficit is predicted to increase by £206k in 2020/21, bringing the total deficit to £2.3m. If funding of £2m is still received each year and increases in the number/cost of EHCPs don’t increase more than recent trends this would mean that the deficit could still be repaid by 2023/24. This is, however, highly unlikely so the best that can be hoped for is that the deficit is kept under £2m. A more detailed forecast will be presented at the January 2021 meeting.

Kate reminded the Forum that a new Free Special School – Oak Tree – will be opening on the Reading/Wokingham border in September 2022. This will mean that pupils no longer go out of borough as Oaktree, which will be part of the Maiden Erlegh Trust, will have places for 75 pupils from Reading. This should generate £2m in savings.

Jo Budge was invited to comment on the impact that Covid is having on nurseries. She confirmed that it is difficult to assess, but that there are fewer pupils staying for the whole day. This is both due to the fact that parents have either been furloughed and are not entitled to the 30 hours or wish to keep their children at home during the pandemic.

The budget position for 2021/22 was NOTED.

Item 8 – Future Top Up Funding Proposal – Director of Education and Schools/DSG Business Partner

Kate Reynolds and Claire White presented.

It is a financial challenge for schools with pupils who have special educational needs and disabilities. A review is, therefore, being undertaken, with the aim to offer a new approach for funding schools.

The Schools Forum was, therefore presented with a series of five options, looking at trying to re-work the banding model, after having undertaken a series of initial discussions with Head Teachers.

Option 1 – Leave the bandings as they are but increase them by a large percentage initially. From then on, the bandings would be increased by the rate of inflation each year. This would be easy to implement, but it does not address any of the disparities that are already in the system.

Option 2 – This would be to do a re-costing of the existing bandings. This would mean looking at how the original bandings were calculated and uprate those calculations with current costs. This would also be very easy to do but would not resolve any disparities.

Option 3 – This would involve re-costing each type of provision. It may mean having additional bandings for each type of provision.

Option 4 – Is for a single-banding model. This would be a matrix of bandings and would mean that funding would be based on the individual pupil’s needs rather than where placed. The funding would be the same regardless as to whether the pupil was in a mainstream or a special school. Several LA’s now use this model, one of them being Slough. The matrix and banding values shown in the tables are those used by Slough, and if we were to use this model we would need to determine the values relevant to our own provision. Slough’s High Needs deficit is currently running at £14m, so although Reading can do this type of model it does require a great deal of funding.

Option 5 – Each individual pupil’s needs as identified in the EHCP is allocated funding. This would require a considerable amount of work to administer.

The Schools’ Forum could consider using one of the options in the short-term and then move to one of the other options long-term.

Peter Kayes commented that he felt that option 5 was probably the fairest one, but that he could appreciate that it would entail a great deal of funding. Therefore, all the options should remain available and should be costed out.

Cathy Doberska reported that the proposals had been discussed at some length at the Primary Heads’ Meeting. The Heads are pleased that it has been acknowledged that something needs to be done in the short-term; the increases from September had just scratched the surface. The general feeling was that option 5 appeared to be the fairest, but it was recognized that it would be difficult to administer. Option 4 was also discussed in great detail, but it was felt that this would not be a very realistic solution in funding different settings the same amount. There is also the issue of pupils moving from a mainstream school to a special school, as this could then mean redundancy for their HLTA. Cranbury College had in the past had a pool of HLTAs which had avoided this issue.

Dr Simon Uttley stated that he was in favour of seeing the costings for the options, and particularly for options 3 and 4. He felt option 5 was too complex.

Isabelle Sandy said that she favoured option 4 but appreciated that the cost needed to be taken into account and, therefore, felt that all the options should be investigated fully. She also asked how long a model should be used for once chosen.

Kate Reynolds believes that the option chosen should be reviewed annually. It may be phased in with interim fixes, whilst full costings are made to determine which is the best long-term solution.

11 members agreed that all five options should be costed, with one member just wanting options 1-4 costed. None against.

13 members agreed that a detailed costing exercise for each resource should be undertaken with none against.

AGREED that all five options will be appraised and brought back to Schools’ Forum in March, and that a detailed costing of resource provision be brought back to the Schools’ Forum in January if data is received back from schools in time.

Item 9 – Alternative Provision Review – Director of Education

Kate Reynolds presented.

Alternative Provision was discussed at October’s Forum. It was felt at this meeting that there should be further talks with Head Teachers on the subject, both in terms of the quantity and the quality of the provision in Reading. Mandy Wilton, Head of Cranbury College, is the Chair of this Review and its findings will be reported at the March 2021 meeting.

NOTED that a progress report will be brought back to Schools’ Forum in the Spring.

Item 10 – Agenda items for next meeting

The next meeting will be held on 14 January 2021. This will also need to be virtual.

  • DSG Funding Settlement for 2021/22
  • Final school funding formula for 2021/22
  • Agree De-delegation for 2021/22
  • Agree Central School Services Budget for 2021/22
  • Budget monitoring 2020/21 month 9 (including update on deficit recovery plan)
  • SEND update and review of Resource Provision bandings

Item 11 – Any other business

There were no items of any other business and the meeting finished at 18:38.

Summary of Actions Outstanding

SF date and item number Action required Responsible person
3/12/20 – item 2 Academy membership – 5th secondary school representative to be decided. Isabelle Sandy to follow up with Ashley Robson.
3/12/20 – item 8 Full costing of all resource provision to be brought to Schools’ Forum in January 2021. Claire White. Subject to receiving the data requested from individual schools.
3/12/20 – item 8 Options Appraisal for all 5 options for future top up funding to be brought to Schools’ Forum in March 2021. Kate Reynolds to engage Project Manager to lead on this.
3/12/20 – item 9 Progress report on the AP review to be brought to Schools’ Forum in March 2021. Mandy Wilton.