We are asking for your views on the proposed changes to the funding bands for Education Health Care Plans (EHCPs)
The High Needs Block (HNB) is the funding provided by the government for the Local Authority (LA) to support pupils with Specials Educational Needs and Disability (SEND), Alternative Provision (AP) and a range of SEND services. Waltham Forest expects to receive approximately £42 million in HNB funding for the year 2020-21. This year, there is currently a projected in-year deficit (i.e. overspend) of £3.5 million which is likely to increase further by the end of March 2020. The current level of budget pressure on SEND provision is not sustainable in the long term. The Council is therefore seeking to find efficiencies across the education service to achieve the highest possible savings whilst still ensuring that we fulfil our legal obligations.
Consultation on HNB funding to date
There is a statutory requirement for the Council to consult with Schools Forum when making important decisions around schools and funding. Schools Forum refreshed the membership and terms of reference of the Inclusion Group which was set up in December 2018 with the aim of identifying proposals to allocate HNB funding for the financial year 2020-21.
Further officer meetings took place in May 2019 following the work of the Inclusion Group to identify suitable proposals to take forward. A consultation then took place during the summer. Part of this was an online survey, which was undertaken to capture direct responses to the options presented to make changes to current bandings in the ‘top-up’ funding element of the HNB applied to children with EHCPs. In addition, as part of the consultation process, meetings were carried out with school teachers and leaders, parent groups including the SEND Parent Forum and school governors.
Following the conclusion of the consultation in July, the Council decided to delay taking a decision on that proposal so that further engagement could be carried out with a working party to respond to concerns raised through the consultation process, consider other options that might be taken instead, and because of the prospect that central government would increase funding in this area.
Further engagement meetings were held between September and October 2019 with representatives from schools, the Waltham Forest Parent Partnership group and the SEND Crisis network. Council officers carried out extensive research into the approaches of other Local Authorities addressing the same issues to identify areas of good practice and carried out sample research around the provision for children receiving ‘E band’ funding. A meeting was organised with the DfE officer for SEND to provide more clarity around the national picture and offer further guidance. Additional funding has now been confirmed from central government and the LA has been notified of the level of this additional funding.
There is still a budget deficit and a need for the Council to consider making changes to the banding model in order to bring about the aim that a balanced budget in HNB is achieved for 2020-2021. Due to the changes in government funding, and our engagement meetings with stakeholders, we no longer propose to continue with the changes to the current banding model that we consulted upon in May. The way in which we now propose this is achieved is through a combination of transfers from schools’ budgets into the High Needs budget, and smaller changes to the current banding system being applied. Schools Forum will be consulted on the proposed transfers.
What's happening now
Schools, parents and carers, and stakeholders are now invited to respond to the revised proposal to change the bandings applied through an online survey between 4 November 2019 and 2 December 2019. The outcome of the consultation will be reported to Schools Forum in December and will be presented to Cabinet who will take the decision as to what changes, if any, are made in January 2020.