The purpose of the report is to:
· seek endorsement for the vision for Solihull’s children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND);
· update members on developments and improvements to date in the council’s SEND service and to report on current and projected demand pressures;
· set out the stages of the service improvement programme from 2021/22 – 2023/24, the expected outcomes and the additional resource needed to deliver those outcomes; and
· confirm the timescale for a revised DSG High Needs Block recovery plan.
The Cabinet was:
Ø Invited to endorse the vision for Solihull’s children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND);
Ø Updated on developments and improvements to date in the Council’s SEND service and to report on current and projected demand pressures;
Ø Advised of the stages of the service improvement programme from 2021/22 – 2023/24, the expected outcomes and the additional resource needed to deliver those outcomes; and
Ø Advised of the timescale for a revised DSG High Needs Block recovery plan.
The report before Members set out the background to the issues faced by the Council in this area and the previous financial support provided by Cabinet to address these issues.
The report detailed the:
Ø Issues faced in a Solihull context
Ø Service improvements to date
Ø Next Steps and Expected outcomes from the SEND Improvement Journey (Next 3 months, Six months and Longer Term)
Ø Resources needed to deliver the improvement programme outcomes, which was broken down in to:
· Cost avoidance (DSG funded, on-going)
· SEND Improvement Capacity (Council funded, mixture of one-off and ongoing)
· Demand Pressure (Council funded)
· Sustainability of previous resource approval
The report detailed how maintaining the status quo would damage the now improving performance of the Council’s response to supporting children with SEND, and leave the Council at risk of breaching its statutory duties. The reasons for recommending the preferred option was because it would help to deal with the significant increase in demand, ensure the Council could meet its statutory duties and ensure readiness for the next SEND area inspection. The additional resource would also avoid destabilising the financial recovery plan for the High Needs block of the DSG.
While there was no longer a requirement to submit a recovery plan to the DfE, the Council needed to have a Recovery Plan to address the deficit. A new plan would be brought forward to Cabinet in the autumn.
The report detailed the request for the resources required to develop, implement and monitor the Recovery and SEND Improvement Plans. The proposal was for £1.176 million of Council funding during the current MTFS period 2021/22 to 2023/24 and for £528,000 of on-going funding to be built into the updated MTFS from 2024/25. Invest to save DSG funding was also proposed of £67,000 in 2021/22, rising to £100,000 per annum from 2022/23 onwards.
Cabinet was asked to approve an allocation of £1.176 million from the Budget Strategy Reserve to cover the funding requirement for the current MTFS period. Subject to adjustments from the Final Accounts report elsewhere on the agenda, the latest forecast balance on the Budget Strategy Reserve at the end of the current MTFS period (March 2024) was £12.849 million.
In introducing the report the Cabinet Member acknowledged the importance EHCP’s had in a young person’s life, and the need for the Council to provide a high level of service. The Cabinet Member highlighted a number of areas which the recommendations in the report hoped to address such as:
Ø Insuring timescales were meet for issuing EHCP’s and transitional arrangements;
Ø Improved joint working with Education, Health and Care services;
Ø Annual Reviews were done appropriately;
Ø The Council would be in a better position to defend cases at Tribunal; and
Ø Help deliver the High Needs Deficit Plan;
The Cabinet Member advised that the proposed changes would provide a high quality service, which met the needs of children and met the aspirations of their families. The Director of Children’s Services and Skills then took Members through the report.
On receiving the report Members sought clarification on a number of points which Officers responded to which in summary included:
Ø Officers advised that Reshaping Education transformational change programme was aimed at reorganising the Directorate so services were delivered in the best way possible, and increasing capacity in certain areas such as Early Years to support early intervention work;
Ø With regard to workforce development within the StART team, Members were advised that a workforce development strategy had been drawn up to support this work;
Ø Members noted that Solihull was not the only authority facing a deficit in their High Needs budget, with 89% of LAs also in a similar position with demand for services increasing, and the resources available not being able to keep up;
Ø Members were advised that the backlog of annual reviews related to all of them, and that Officers were confident that the additional staff brought in to clear the back log was sufficient to do the job and within the timescales. With regard to the Dispute Resolution Officer role these Officers would be involved in the more complex cases and it was hoped they would be able to prevent escalation in cases and so avoid costly mediation or cases going to Tribunal;
Ø Officers acknowledged that there was competition for experienced staff in this field and agency staff had to be employed to cover posts, and their period of notice was very short. Officers recognised the importance of having a stable team in place so key relationships with schools and families could be established.
Ø With regard to the DfE SEND Review it was difficult to comment on what the possible outcome might be with regard to additional money.
Members were in agreement in supporting the recommendations noting the importance of this statutory service, and previous additional financial support which the Council had provided through the Budget Strategy Reserve for this area of work in previous years. Officers confirmed that key Members of the Cabinet would be able to have regular sight of recovery plan as it was developed over the next few months.
(i) That the vision for children with SEND as set out in paragraphs 4.3 and 4.4. of the report be endorsed;
(ii) That the progress to date in improving the Council’s support for children with SEND be noted;
(iii) That the demand pressures detailed in paragraphs 3.2 to 3.3 and to approve the SEND improvement programme set out in paragraphs 5.1 to 5.3. of the report be noted;
(iv) That an allocation of £1.176 million from the Budget Strategy Reserve to cover the additional staffing for the service improvement programme, for the period to March 2024 as set out in the report be approved;
(v) That the Budget Strategy Group be requested to consider an allocation of £528,000 per annum from 2024/25, for the on-going resource requirements;
(vi) That the proposed invest to save funding for additional staff of £67,000 in 2021/22, rising to £100,000 per annum from 2022/23 onwards from the High Needs Block of Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG), to enable the Council to respond to significant demand pressures within SEND be noted;
(vii) That it be noted that officers will bring an updated High Needs Block recovery plan to Cabinet for approval in autumn 2021.