Agenda item

Outcome of the Rapid Scrutiny on High Needs Block Funding

To consider the final report from the Rapid Scrutiny on High Needs Block Funding.


Cllr Trigg, lead member of the rapid scrutiny exercise, introduced the report. She provided background information explaining that the High Needs Block received £63 million in funding in 2022/23, around 15 percent of the total Dedicated Schools Grant. The demand for Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) had increased dramatically in recent years, from 1,992 in 2015 to 4,608 by the end of 2022, equating to around four percent of the school age population. The group welcomed planned changes at Silverwood School, as well as proposals to open resource bases in secondary schools to increase the number of places, provide more options for parents and give greater financial oversight. The group also noted that Wiltshire was one of 55 local authorities with a deficit in High Needs Block funding that were part of a programme to deliver better value in SEND, by looking at ways to improve diagnostics and implementation of plans.


Cllr Trigg explained that the group felt that establishing a task group would be unlikely to be beneficial at the present time as the Department for Education’s  Delivering Better Value in SEND programme was carrying out an in-depth review of pressures on the High Needs Block budget and timeliness of EHCP assessment. However, the group did come up with a number of recommendations, available on pages 60 and 61 of the agenda pack, which Cllr Trigg outlined in detail.


During the discussion, points included:


·       The committee welcomed the recommendations and thanked the rapid scrutiny group for the report.

·       In response to a query about unmet demand for EHCPs, the Director for Education and Skills explained that children identified with additional needs would already to have a support plan and the assessment would decide whether an EHCP was needed.

·       When asked whether Wiltshire had the capacity to support all of the children currently waiting for an EHCP assessment, the director explained that government funding was based on the historical pupil numbers. 

·       It was confirmed that Wiltshire’s School Effectiveness Team had specialist SEN officers that worked with all schools to provide training and assist with annual reviews. Work was also ongoing to develop Ordinarily Available Provision for All Learners (OPAL) setting out expected levels of support for children with SEN in mainstream educational settings.

·       The director noted that Wiltshire worked closely with other local authorities to provide support for children educated outside the county, but that the expansion of Silverwood and the SAIL School in Salisbury would improve flexibility and could help to manage transport costs.

·       The director also explained that waiting time for Education, Health and Care Need Assessments was a priority and they were regularly recruiting education psychologists to carry out assessments.

·       As the rapid scrutiny group had highlighted concerns about how performance assurance could be provided to the council without creating extra bureaucracy for schools, the chairman suggested that the vice-chairman and he could receive a briefing on the methodology being used to monitor wider performance measures (excluding costed provision maps).  The committee agreed to add this to the nine recommendations made by the rapid scrutiny group.

·       It was noted that a pre-committee briefing would be held on SEND provision scheduled for 14 March 2023.




1. To approve the establishment of a rapid scrutiny exercise or short-term task group (as two meetings may be required) to collect information on local authorities who have managed to avoid a deficit for their High Needs Block. Once that information is collected it should enable the committee to decide whether or not further scrutiny of Wiltshire Council’s approach regarding its High Needs Block deficit would be beneficial.


The task group recommends that the Cabinet Member for Children's Services, Education and Skills and / or the Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care, SEND and Inclusion:


2. To consider offering a place for an overview and scrutiny member on the council’s governance body linked with the “Delivering better value in SEND” Department for Education-led programme.


3. Ensure that the issue of timeliness for EHCP and Education Health Care Needs Assessment is regularly reviewed by the relevant performance and outcome board and to ask officers to provide a briefing for the chair and vice-chair of the Children’s Select Committee in 6 months-time (June / July 2023) on improvements made to timeliness. Members of the rapid scrutiny exercise would also be invited to the briefing. Based on information provided at the briefing a decision could then be made on the benefits of further scrutiny of this particular issue.


4. Raise Wiltshire Councillors’ awareness of the lobbying tools available for the young people and school(s) in their division as well as encourage councillors to explore how inclusive the school(s) in their division are. This could be a light touch approach through the regular communications to councillors or via the Councillors’ Hub.


5. Ensure that the High Needs Block deficit and risks associated to it are brought to councillors’ attention when they receive information and / or training on the budget, as well as when the budget is presented. Consideration could be given to a standalone page, with an explanatory note, as part of the budget papers.


6. Provide an update to the Children’s Select Committee in

June / July 2024 on the success of resource bases in secondary schools (as started in September 2023).


7. Consider investing more officer time into the roll-out of costed provision maps to enable these to be undertaken for all EHCP within a reasonable timeframe. This may be an “invest to save” approach as it should provide better monitoring of impact and performance.


8. Provide a briefing for the chair and vice-chair of the Children’s Select Committee in 6 months-time (June / July 2023) on the roll-out of costed provision maps. Members of the rapid scrutiny exercise would also be invited to the briefing. This could be part of the same briefing as proposed in recommendation 3.


9. Use one of the regular updates from Schools Forum to the Children’s Select Committee to provide further information on the High Needs Block working group, including terms of reference and membership.


10. For the chairman and vice-chairman (or the committee) to receive a briefing on the methodology being used to monitor wider performance measures.

Supporting documents: