Call-in of a Delegated Decision - Cabinet Minute No. 140 - Proposals for Changes to School Top Up Payments for Students with High Needs
- Meeting of Call-in, Policy and Performance - Coordinating Committee, Thursday, 27th February 2014 6.00 p.m. (Item 44.)
In accordance with the procedure previously agreed by the Committee, the Chair referred to the decision of the Cabinet made at its meeting on 16 January 2014 to agree:
“That the recommendations of the Schools Forum in Appendix 1 to the report be approved with the following amendments and additions:
· Notional SEN costs (LCHI) are funded from Schools Contingency (new addition).
· The costs arising from a High Needs MFG is funded from an SEN under spend in 2013-14 (addition to final recommendation).
· The Special Schools Contingency is used to support specialist provision facing financial difficulties (amendment to the second sentence of recommendation 3).”
(Cabinet Minute No. 140 refers.)
The decision had been called-in by Councillors T Harney, P Gilchrist, J Green, I Lewis, C Povall and P Williams, on the following grounds that:
The banding proposals (para 2.7) are not based on a clear costing of the needs of the children. In particular, the needs of the children with profound and multiple learning difficulties should be quantified.
There is a clear need for one to one in terms of adult presence for many of the children. There is also a need for teaching and other staff. These are in addition to the running costs of the school.
In the case of the Lyndale, the funding proposals will result in the closure of the school. This has not been made clear in the paper.
We would like to seek assurance that the required contingency funding is in place to top up the special educational funding required for the best care and education to be provided for all children.
The Committee was invited to consider the decision that had been made and determine, in the light of evidence to be presented, the most appropriate course of action. The Committee had no power to overturn a Cabinet decision, or to substitute its own decision in place of the original. The options open to the Committee were:
· to take no further action, in which case the original decision shall take immediate effect and may be implemented;
· to refer the decision back to the Cabinet Member for reconsideration, setting out in writing the nature of the Committee’s concerns;
· to refer the matter to the Council, if the Committee believes that the decision was outside the policy framework or contrary to or not wholly in accordance with the budget.
Explanation of the Call-In by the Lead Signatory, Councillor Tom Harney
Councillor Tom Harney provided a brief rationale for the call-in of the Cabinet’s decision. He informed that a decision had been made about funding which meant that the Lyndale School had to close as there is insufficient money per child to educate children in the School. Councillor Harney considered that insufficient information had been provided for a rational person to make a rational decision.
The Head of Legal and Member services informed that the Cabinet had made its decision on the basis that it had considered that it had sufficient information to make it. The Committee could now test this and satisfy itself that an informed decision was made.
Explanation of the Decision Taken by the Cabinet – Councillor Tony Smith – Cabinet Member – Children and Family Services
Councillor Tony Smith informed that high needs top up payments were complex with 24 separate recommendations. Changes had been introduced in respect of funding high needs by the Department for Education. There had been an initial report to the Cabinet in 2012 which had been agreed. There had been a reduction in the planned admission number from 45 to 40 at the Lyndale School in 2012/13. It was now likely that a banding system would be needed.
The report presented to the Cabinet on 16 January 2014 recommended revised funding arrangements for SEN Top-Ups in maintained Primary, Secondary, Special and Academy Schools. In addition revised place numbers were recommended in some specialist school and base provision.
The proposals had been developed through a working group of the Schools Forum and were advised by a series of meetings with special schools, SEN resourced provision, alternative provision and colleagues from other authorities of the Merseyside Learn Together Partnership. There had been an extended consultation with schools and providers (3 July to 18 October). The report had been discussed with and was approved by the Schools Forum at its meeting on 13 November.
Basically, the report had dealt with the banding model and informed how top ups would be made. The Committee noted that the minimum funding guarantee was now more affordable, therefore the application for an exemption from this requirement had been withdrawn.
Evidence from Call-In Witness
Ian Harrison, Vice Chair of the Governors and Chair of the Finance Committee
Mr Harrison informed that the Lyndale School now had a surplus forecast for 2013/14. It was going to get the minimum funding guarantee. There would be a small surplus in 2014/15. Savings would continue, approximately £70,000 in future years.
Mr Harrison also informed that the number of school places had to be agreed with the Education Funding Agency. The Governors of the Lyndale School considered that 28 places would be appropriate. The top up regime had changed. Each place was allocated £10,000, as per the national agreement. Locally top up funding was put in to allow for the needs of the pupils. The top up for Band 5 was £16,000. The governors considered that the top up should be £27,500 per pupil to ensure adequate cover for their needs.
Mr Harrison reported that the governors considered that it was imperative that children were educated in a safe environment. The proposals did not allow for this. Elleray Park was expanding to cater for the numbers it currently had on roll. The current proposals would be detrimental to the staff whose experience had been built up over the last few years.
Mr Harrison told the Committee that the Lyndale School had put forward a proposal that if implemented would reduce its non teaching staff costs from May 2014.
Members then asked Mr Harrison some questions which he answered as appropriate. It was noted that:
· The Cabinet had received an early estimate rather than one at the end of the period when it would have been more realistic.
· The ratio of staff to pupils at the Lyndale School had reduced in 2012 as a result of an independent survey conducted by Eric Craven.
· None of the special schools agreed with the formula that had been approved.
· The £16,000 per year for all schools had not been suitable because of the types of needs pupils assessed in Band 5 had.
· The Lyndale School considered that £27,500 per year was more realistic to educate its pupils and it wanted £37,500 altogether.
Evidence from Cabinet Member’s Witness
Julia Hassall, Director of Children’s Services, David Armstrong, Head of Service CYPD and Assistant Chief Executive and Andrew Roberts, Senior Manager School Funding and Resources
Andrew Roberts, Senior Manager School Funding and Resources informed the Committee of the budget for special schools, the national changes in funding formula and the changes to introduce a banding system which followed Department for Education guidance.
Mr Roberts informed that the 2013 consultation exercise had been fairly extensive and had gone out to all schools. The general view was that the proposals were reasonable starting point but there would be a need to review and develop further.
The major issues identified and taken into account in consultation with specialist SEN providers was the need for any banded approach to:
· Ensure stability of budgets by minimising as much as possible any disturbance to current levels of funding.
· Take account of possible fluctuations to funding because of part year occupancy of places and the interest of the authority to have places available.
· Not to be too simplistic. Very early suggestions around banding looked at the possibility of just 3 bands – low, medium and high.
· Recognise the needs of a growing number of pupils with social communication needs with relatively stronger funding than has been the case to date.
· Recognise the resource intensive nature of making provision for those with the most profound and multiple difficulties.
· Honour existing commitments.
· Take account of the fact that there was limited scope to redistribute monies without additional funding for pupils already in the system.
Members then asked Mr Roberts some questions which he answered as appropriate. It was noted that:
· The Schools Forum had received the same report that was presented to the Cabinet and because of its representative nature was aware of all of the issues when it made its recommendations.
· If there were any savings if the Lyndale School closed they would be redistributed because wherever children went funding followed.
· The Lyndale School said it needed £37,500 per year for each child but had only been offered £26,000. Other schools had been content for the Lyndale School to be funded from empty places.
· There was a £900,000 contingency fund within the budget.
· The changes proposed were for a two year period April 2014-16 and would be kept under review with regular reports to the Schools Forum.
· The banding structure also applied to independent placements.
Summary of the Lead Call-In Signatory, Councillor Tom Harney
Councillor Tom Harney reported that the Lyndale School’s numbers had changed as had the funding formula over the years. In a school most of its funding went on its staffing. There were different means of controlling expenditure and he would like to see what the daily life of the child was like and how much it cost. It was time to take a radical look at what was happening.
Councillor Harney told the Committee that the Lyndale School was unique in this country for a maintained school. Research was required. What was the children’s’ and parents’ experiences? What was best? Objective advice was needed.
Councillor Harney was asked whether he took comfort from the fact that Officers had had the foresight to put to put contingencies in the budget. His response was that research was required so that the facts could be established to make an informed decision. The cost, the real cost of being safe and comfortable needed to be identified.
Summary of the Cabinet Member, Councillor Tony Smith
Councillor Tony Smith informed that the technical details had been explored by Officers who had a better understanding of how the formula worked. All Head Teachers considered their schools to be special. This was a new situation with a national formula that the local education authority had to operate.
A Member asked that when the local education authority did consult would Officers make sure that a realistic estimate of what the alternatives were was included.
Another Member informed that the budget was adequate with contingency fund and that the detailed Minutes from this meeting would be referred back to those who were making the decision.
Having carefully considered the options that were open to the Committee, it was moved by the Councillor B Mooney and seconded by Councillor P Doughty
“That the Committee upholds the Cabinet’s decision and it be ensured that consultation is meaningful, informed and transparent.”
Councillor A Sykes proposed the following amendment which was seconded by Councillor W Clements:
“We would like to seek assurance that the required contingency funding is in place to top up the special educational funding to ensure that the level of funding required for the best care and education is provided for all children.”
A vote was then taken on the amendment as follows:
For the amendment (7) Councillors A Brighouse, W Clements, D Elderton, L Fraser, A Hodson and A Sykes and Ms Nicola Smith (Parent Governor representative).
Against the amendment (8) P Doughty, S Foulkes, P Glasman, M McLaughlin, B Moonie, D Roberts, J Salter and J Stapleton.
The amendment was therefore lost (7:8)
A vote was then taken on the motion as follows:
For the motion (8) Councillors P Doughty, S Foulkes, P Glasman, M McLaughlin, B Moonie, D Roberts, J Salter and J Stapleton.
Against the motion (7) Councillors A Brighouse, W Clements, D Elderton, L Fraser, A Hodson and A Sykes and Ms Nicola Smith (Parent Governor representative).
The motion was therefore carried (8:7)
That the Committee upholds the Cabinet’s decision and it be ensured that consultation is meaningful, informed and transparent