Draft School Forum Minutes – 9 December 2021

Members present

Justine McMinn – Head Teacher of EP Collier; Peter Kayes – Governor at the Ridgeway; Richard Rolfe – Governor at Micklands (Chair); Simon Uttley – Head Teacher of Blessed Hugh Faringdon; John Salberg – Principal of The Wren School; Karen Edwards – Head Teacher of The Heights; Annal Nayyar – Finance Director of Baylis Trust (Reading Girls); Isabelle Sandy – Business Manager of Kendrick; Claire Brown – Business Manager of Prospect School (substitute); Cathy Woodcock – Finance Director of Reading School; Mandy Wilton – Head Teacher of Cranbury College; Andy Johnson – Head Teacher of Maiden Erlegh School in Reading; Julia Cottee – Governor at Reading Early Years Schools Federation; Alison McNamara – NEU.

No apologies

In attendance

Steph Heaps – Schools & DSG Business Partner; Clare Warren – School Support Lead; Steven Davies – Strategic Finance Business Partner; Sue Imbriano – Director of Education; Gill Dunlop – Pupil & School Service Manager; Ann McDonnell – Business Manager of Blessed Hugh Faringdon; Amanda Barnes – Strategic Commissioning Manager for SEND and Education; Corinne Dishington – Service Manager Under 5s; Nicola Panel – Schools & DSG Business Partner (maternity cover from January 2022); Vanessa Hurdle – minute taker.

Item 1 – Welcome and apologies – Chair

The Chair welcomed everyone to the meeting.

Steph Heaps read out the protocol for the virtual meeting and confirmed that primary and secondary members only were required to vote on item 4 – the transfer from the Schools block to the High Needs block. Recording of the meeting commenced. The recording will be retained until the minutes have been approved.

Item 2 – Minutes of the meeting held on 14 October 2021 – Chair

Minutes were agreed as an accurate record of the meeting from 14 October 2021. 

Matters arising:

  • Membership – Richard needed to confirm with Ita McGullion that she wishes to remain a member of the Schools’ Forum. Ita has confirmed that she does wish to remain a member.

Item 3 – Schools’ Forum Membership Update – Chair

Richard confirmed that the Forum remains at full membership. There are currently no vacancies. However, confirmation is required from Dr Simon Uttley that he wishes to continue as a member, as his term of office officially ends in January 2022. (Simon indicated that he does wish to remain in post).

Steph pointed out that Jo Budge is also due for re-election in January 2022. Richard will contact Jo for clarification on this matter.

Item 4 – DSG Budget Overview for 2022/23 – Schools/DSG Business Partner

Steph Heaps presented.

A vote is required on the transfer from the Schools block to the High Needs block.

Steph confirmed that there have not been any significant changes to what was announced at the October meeting. This paper sets out the funding that is expected for 2022/23. This can be seen in Appendix 1, with the estimated figures based on the October 2020 census figures.

Schools’ Block – This is a £2.7m increase, or 2.6% overall.

Growth Funding – This will continue to use the same formula funding as the previous year. There is an estimated underspend for 21/22 of £1.075m, which will be carried forward to 22/23. This carry forward should be sufficient to cover any bulge classes that are predicted for 22/23.

Central Schools’ block – This will see an overall increase of 3.9%. Reading is receiving the maximum of 5.6%. There is a reduction in this block of 20% from the Government due to historical commitments. The first 20% reduction took place in 2020/21.

High Needs block – There is no change to the formula. Based on current numbers, this block will see a £2.02m or 8.2% increase. This increase will be of benefit to the growing number of pupils with EHCPs.

Early Years block – As part of the October Spending Review, the Government announced that there will be an increase of £160m to the Early Years’ Sector. Part of this funding will be used for training, but it has also been announced that the funding rate to Local Authorities will be increased.

Table 3.6 – The text is correct, but the table itself is incorrect.

For the 2 year old entitlement, there will be an increase of 21p, taking the funding to £6.11 and for 3 & 4 year olds, the rate will increase by 17p, taking the funding rate to £5.45.

The Maintained Nursery Supplementary Grant will also be increased by 3.5%. The rate for the Early Years’ Pupil Premium will be increased by 7p, whilst the increase for the Disability Access Fund will be £185.

The intention is that full increases will be passed onto Providers, but this cannot be confirmed until all data is finalised, and the draft January 2022 census data is known.

Transfer from the Schools’ block to the High Needs’ block – A decision is required on this issue. A Consultation was previously sent to all schools. £484k has been transferred in 2021/22. This is specifically for the Inclusion fund, which supports those schools with a disproportionate number of EHCPs.

Table 1 shows the results of the Consultation. Only 14 schools responded – 11 primaries and 3 secondaries – and of these, 50% preferred Option 2 – an increase in the funding to £526K (0.5% of the Schools block). Option 1 was to continue to make a transfer at the current rate, whilst option 3 was to not make a transfer at all.

Comments received in the Consultation were that Schools with a high percentage of pupils with EHCPs will still receive enough top-up funding so the transfer should not be made. Another school suggested that the funding should be given but using a different allocation basis. A suggestion was also made that support should be given to those schools with falling rolls.

The proposal is that the maximum of £526k is transferred. Members voted on the three different options.

There were four votes for Option 1 and three votes for Option 2. The majority vote is for Option 1 – the transfer of £484k.

Requirements for the Setting of the Budget –

The Schools block will be discussed in item 5.

High Needs block – Place numbers need to be considered. In February, where pupils are being placed and the cost of these placements will be reviewed as well as the impact on the Deficit Recovery Plan.

Early Years’ block – This area is currently still very hard to predict but the Government has confirmed that funding will revert back to the original method – 5/12ths of January 2022 census and 7/12ths of January 2023. Currently funding continues to be made termly.

Central block – There will be a 20% reduction in this area for Historical Commitments so savings will need to be found.

Item 5 – Final proposals for school funding formula for 2022/23 – Schools/DSG Business Partner

Steph Heaps presented.

When the Consultation was sent to all schools, they were asked for their comments on the proposed funding formula for 2022/23, but no comments were received. The intention is to carry on in the current year by trying to mirror the National Formula Funding values as closely as possible. This has been achieved, with the lump sum being reduced by 1%. Based on the current census numbers and the amount Reading is forecast to receive, this will not be financially affordable in 2022/23, but the true picture will not be clear until census numbers are known in the next couple of weeks.

There are no changes to the formula factors, just the values which are changing.

  • 3% Increase to the basic entitlement
  • 2% increase to Free school meals

Values will be mirrored as closely as possible and where there is a shortfall, the formula values will all be reduced at the same rate and the lump sum will also be adjusted if need be. The proposals for the initial budget allocations will be brought to the January Schools’ Forum.

Item 6 – Top-up funding – Schools/DSG Business Partner and Interim Director of Education

Steph Heaps presented.

Sue Imbriano confirmed that it is understood that the uplift is just a temporary mechanism so work will be done to look at the banding top-ups.

An independent review was carried out on the banding system earlier in 2021, but this was put on hold due to the outcome of the Government’s SEND Review. It is now hoped that the outcomes from this review will be released in the first quarter of 2022. However, as Reading had not made any changes, it was agreed that an uplift would be made to the current rates from September 2021.

In September 2020 the top-up rates were increased for the fist time since September 2013. In 2020/21 Special schools and Resource Units received an increase of 5%. Mainstream schools were dealt with separately as the provision is mainly 1 to 1 support. The proposal for 2022/23 is that all settings will receive the same uplift. Three different options were considered:

  • 3% increase – in-line with the increase to the National formula Funding for 2022/23
  • 4% – the average rates of inflation using both CPI and RPI
  • 5% – equivalent rate used for the top-up in September 2020

Both the affordability factor and the impact on the High Needs block need to be considered when changes are made. It has, therefore, been decided that the increase will be 4% and this will be backdated to September 2021. The cost of this for 2021/22 is just under £205k. Schools should receive their Autumn Funding before Christmas and it will be paid at the new rate.

Item 7 – Dedicated Schools Grant Budget Monitoring 2021/22 -Schools/DSG Business Partner

Steph Heaps presented

This paper is presented to the Schools’ Forum to note the current financial position. There have been no changes to the funding allocation since the last report in October 2021. Only in year change to date is the High Needs block has seen a reduction of £18k due to the import/export adjustment.

The Early Years’ allocation for 2021/22 has still not been received, but it is expected to be received in the next couple of weeks in the next funding announcement. However, in November, the final notification of the Early Years’ block allocation for 2020/21 was received. This has resulted in a clawback of funding of £399k, which is £42k less than was expected. This now means that the £42k can be added to the contingency fund for this financial year. This also takes into account the £64k that Reading received in relation to the 85% Spring Term top-up funding. If Spring Term ’21 numbers were 85% or more lower than the previous year, then the Government provided top-up funding.

Table 2 – This shows the current budget and forecast per block.

There is an estimated underspend of £1.07m in the Schools block. It is not expected that this figure will alter between now and the end of the financial year. This huge underspend is due to the fact that there were no bulge classes in September 2021.

The forecast for the end of this financial year is a deficit of £1.623m. This is an increase of £450k compared to what was reported at Month 6. It is still, however, a decrease from the revised budget of £747k. Of this £747k, the main variances are detailed in 4.3. However, many of these under and overspends are ring-fenced, such as the Growth Fund and Early Years.

Central Schools Services block – This area is showing a small underspend of £6.5k, which is not expected to change.

Early Years’ block – It is currently estimated that there will be a surplus at the end of the year of £120k. The financial year commenced with a contingency of £154k and an additional £42k that had not been accounted for has been added. However, the surplus is dependent on the Spring Term ‘22 numbers. For this financial year, funding is being done on a termly basis, which means that the Spring Term will only equate to 3/12ths of funding whereas normally it would equate to 7/12ths.

High Needs block – 83% of this budget is for top-up funding. Table 3 compares the number of EHCPs at each January since 2016. Since January 2021 the number of EHCPs has increased by 122. Of these 38% relate to pupils aged 4-6.

The top-up budget for this financial year was set based on figures in February 2021. This is shown in Table 4. This table shows that the main variances relate to Independent and Non-Maintained Special Schools. Not only are the costs greater than expected, but more places than originally forecast are required. Less pupils have been placed in Resource Units than was originally budgeted, with more pupils being placed in Further Education and Independent Schools.

The average cost of a place had been budgeted at £13,567, but based on current data the cost is now £14,270, which equates to a 5% increase. It is, therefore, forecast that this budget will overspend by £564k, despite the fact that there are 35 places less than forecast.

Inclusion Fund – This remains at £484k and will not overspend. This is transferred to schools on a termly basis, using the Statistical Neighbour Percentage where this is possible. In the Summer Term this had to be increased by 0.6%

Maintained Schools’ Balances 2021/22

In October 2021, all schools were asked to report their forecast to the end of the financial year. The expected carry forward balance outturn has increased from £1.298m to £1.754m. This is an increase of £456k.

Deficit Recovery Plan

There was supposed to have been a meeting with the DfE in November 2021, but this has now been postponed until early 2022.

Based on November’s position, it is forecast that by the end of 21/22 the deficit will be £1.623m. Of this £1.623m, £1.2m is ring-fenced for future years’ use. The deficit in the High Needs block is expected to increase by £0.695m to £2.8m.

The strategy in trying to support the recovery of the deficit and to keep costs down is to maximise local provision as well as minimise those placements in the most expensive settings. A robust SEN panel is also needed which is consistent in its decision-making.

Table 5 summarizes the assumptions:

  • The annual increase will be 8% for 2022/23 and 5% for 2023/24
  • £484k will be transferred from the Schools’ block
  • All other centrally-retained costs will remain static
  • Top-ups will be increased by 2%

Based on current data, it is forecast that the deficit will be paid by 26/27

Isabelle Sandy asked if schools could explain why their balances had increased. Clare Warren explained that this is because schools are receiving more funding and income. They have received additional grants such as the Recovery Premium and the School-led Tutoring Grants. These were not known about when the budgets were set. Schools are also receiving more SEND funding as there was a backlog of EHCPs being reviewed and allocated to schools, which has led to an additional £250k.

Isabelle queried whether there were any schools which were of concern. Clare confirmed that a school which had been in deficit now has a small surplus. Four other schools have now decreased their deficits.

Commissioning Project Review – Children and Young People Integrated Therapies – Mandie Barnes, Strategic Commissioning Manager for SEND and Education

Mandie Barnes presented

Mandie is the Strategic Commissioning Manager for SEND and Education and wished to report to the Forum on the work that her area does to support schools.

Alternative Provision Directory – The tender took place earlier this year and there are currently 10 organisations, which are waiting to receive their contracts. These organisations will cover the following: full-time alternative provision, part-time alternative provision, tutoring, on-line learning, off-site support mentoring and coaching, on-site support mentoring and coaching and part or full-time alternative provision for post-16 students.

The tender will go out again in April and it is hoped that the number of organisations involved will increase. Between now and April work will be done to encourage more providers. Reading Football Club, which is very well used by schools and Brighter Futures for Children, is very keen to be included in the Directory.

The Directory will eventually be published for schools to use once the 10 organisations are all signed. It is hoped that it will be put on the schools’ webpage. All of the companies will have had their pre-checks done so schools can be assured that they meet the appropriate standards and that they have insurance.

Children & Young People Integrated Therapies (CYPIT Contract)

Mandie spoke regarding the Section F Therapies. BFfC commissions the service, which supports the therapies that are identified in Section F of EHCPs. BFfC is now working together with both West Berkshire and Wokingham Councils to commission this service. It is anticipated that savings will be made by working in this way as currently three management fees are paid and it is hoped that this will be reduced to just one. It is also felt that there will be more flexibility from the staff that are employed. It is believed that by joining together, this will give the provider more opportunity to cover absences when staff are off sick or go on maternity leave.

In the Head Teachers’ Briefing on 10 November, a link to a questionnaire was sent out. It was hoped that all schools would respond to this questionnaire. The closing date was given as 7 December, but this has now been extended to 17 December.

Isabelle asked if the link to the questionnaire could be sent out again. Mandie confirmed that she would send the link to Steph to send out.

Item 9 – Agenda items for next meeting

The next meeting will be held on 20 January 2022 at 5pm as a virtual meeting

  • DSG actual funding settlement for 2022/23
  • Final school funding formula for 2022/23
  • Agree growth fund for 2022/23
  • Agree de-delegations for 2022/23
  • Agree Central Schools’ services budget for 2022/23

Item 10 – Any other business

Voting for Item 4 – Steph said that she had re-checked the voting for this item and had realised that Richard had not voted. Richard confirmed that he had been unable to cast his vote, but that he was happy to abstain on this occasion. The result, therefore, still stands.

Steph also made the Forum aware that this was her last meeting before she goes on maternity leave. Nicola Panel will be her replacement whilst she is on maternity leave. Richard thanked Steph for all her hard work over the year. The meeting finished at 5.48pm.

Summary of actions outstanding

SF Date & Item no.Action requiredResponsible person
9/12/21 – Item 3Membership – Jo Budge to remain a memberRichard Rolfe