An update on the pressures facing the Dedicated Schools Grant High Needs Block was shared at the Schools Forum meeting on Thursday 16 November 2023.
The High Needs Block is an element of the Dedicated Schools Grant which funds special schools, support for children on Education, Health and Care Plans within mainstream schools, and associated outreach and support services for children with additional needs which cannot be met through universal and preventative education services.
Knowsley, along with the majority of local authorities across the country, is facing significant financial pressure as a consequence of rising costs arising from statutory duties in relation to children and young people with special educational needs and / or disabilities (SEND).
As has already been shared at Cabinet last week (7 November 2023), central Government’s funding is falling way short of what is needed to meet demand for services, including supporting children with SEND.
National analysis suggests that cumulative High Needs Block deficits across the country currently stand at £1.9bn, and that they will rise to £3.6bn by 2025 if there is no Government intervention.
In Knowsley, the deficit could reach £12m at the end of the 2023/24 financial year if the Government doesn’t intervene.
Statutory Regulations currently allow a Dedicated Schools Grant deficit to be carried forward in a ringfenced reserve – so the deficit will not affect the Council’s operational budget.
These Regulations are scheduled to remain in place until 31 March 2026. The Council is lobbying the Government to ensure after this date, Councils are not expected to fund remaining deficits. This is a national issue affecting lots of local authorities and is not something unique to Knowsley.
Cllr Margaret Harvey, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, said :
“It is essential that the Government increases the level of High Needs Block funding in order to meet the sustained demand for Education, Health and Care Plans – a level of demand which is being experienced across the region and nationally.”
An Education, Health and Care Plan contains an overview of a child’s education, health and social care needs and details the expected outcomes of any provision to support that child. This could be delivered through bespoke social care or health plans, as well as through educational provision (such as 1:1 teaching assistant support, specialist equipment, or a placement in a special school) which is funded through the High Needs Block.
The Council is working hard to improve capacity, but additional cost is being incurred due to out of borough placements at independent schools.
The Council has discussed the High Needs Block pressures with the Education and Skills Funding Agency and has also agreed a Deficit Management Plan with them which includes addressing the drivers for demand as well as increasing places in Knowsley. Twenty six new places have already been created (at Alt Bridge and Bluebell Park satellite provision at Eastcroft Park School) with work progressing on a further 32 additional places (at Knowsley Central School, Finch Woods Academy and Bluebell Park School).