UPDATE ON NATIONAL SCHOOLS FUNDING ISSUES
To receive an update from the schools finance manager on national developments in schools funding.
The Strategic Finance Manager (SFM) gave a presentation on national funding issues and proposals for the direct national funding formula.
Forum members discussed the proposals and put questions to the SFM, Service Director, Education Skills and Learning and the Head of Additional Needs (HAN). It was noted that:
· The local authority would continue to have a role, particularly in relation to local authority maintained schools, but it was too early to judge the impact of the shift to a direct funding formula on services provided and therefore on service level agreements;
· Rising energy costs for schools were a concern and the SFM would liaise with the f40 group to see if the results of the recent survey by the DfE could be obtained and shared; (Action: MG)
· The local authority would continue to monitor school budgets for local authority maintained schools and give early warning of the need to revise spending but this would be more difficult with schools using the DfE calculator tool rather than having the Herefordshire Council 5 year budget planner;
· The stated intention from the DfE was for all schools to become academies by 2030;
· Forum members valued and appreciated the work of the SFM and others in keeping budgets under control and stretching scarce resources as far as possible, it was important that the DfE took account of the rurality of Herefordshire in its approach to school funding and that the national system was fair and equitable;
· Clear and early information on teachers and support staff pay was needed, in the past announcements had been too late to allow schools to plan properly.
The service director updated the forum on plans for a local authority brokered Multi Academy Trust (MAT). This was at a very early stage but the expression of interest submitted to the DfE had been positively received. Further discussions would take place in the autumn.
The service director notified the forum that the DfE had launched a proposal for a new free special school and that the local authority had expressed an interest. A second opportunity, for a free alternative provision school, was expected to launch in the autumn and the local authority was likely to express an interest for this too. It was stressed that no commitments had been entered into at this point and that full consultation would take place. The timescales for a response to the initial launch had been tight and it was felt that the local authority should keep the option open to make a bid for a new free school.
Forum members understood the need for additional special school places and recognised the opportunity this presented. Any bid would need to demonstrate the types of need that the county currently struggled to meet and consider the best location for provision. However it was noted that this would not help to address the condition of existing special schools or alleviate funding pressures and that the SEND review proposals did not include any comment on uprating the £10,000 per place funding for special schools, which had not been increased since 2014.
The forum was also advised that:
· The DfE was looking to improve attendance as figures had yet to return to pre-covid levels, Herefordshire did not currently have any attendance officers to support schools but funding had been secured to recruit to two or possibly three posts in the 22/23 academic year;
· The school improvement grant to the local authority was ceasing but Herefordshire had plans in place to continue to provide school improvement support;
· The f40 group had held a briefing for MPs in Westminster to promote the need for fair funding for all schools and the MP for North Herefordshire had attended, another session would be arranged for later this year or early next year.
Forum members noted the updates provided and thanked officers for their input. Further detailed information on proposals for the 23/24 budget would be presented in the autumn term.