Johnny Kyriacou (JK) updated Forum members on progress towards joining the DfE’s ‘Safety Valve’ programme. He confirmed that the LA is having fortnightly meetings with the DfE, at which a very credible plan has been presented. JK stated that the DfE appeared to have confidence in the LA’s plans; they have been questioning all the areas carefully and believe that what the LA is saying is realistic and achievable. The current intention is to submit the bid in February 2023 to join the program by April; this allows the programme to start in the 2023/24 financial year.
The Chair asked for clarification about the timescale for actually being accepted formally on to the programme, as this has been in discussion for a considerable period of time. JK confirmed that the bid has to be submitted to the DfE by February, and if successful would lead to inclusion on the programme by April 2023.
JK further confirmed that the programme is expected to last for four years, at the end of which the High Needs block would achieve an in-year balance. Some LAs on the programme have a five year plan; SBC believes it can be done in four years. This is a credible strategy which allows for possible slippage into a fifth year if circumstances change.
JK asked for clarification on whether the wider schools community feel well informed about the situation. Although the DSG management plan and the safety valve programme have been discussed extensively at Forum and in the Slough Education Partnership Board, there was very low uptake to a recent opportunity for headteachers to hear directly from the DfE adviser.
The Chair asked Forum members to comment on whether there is a wider understanding of the position or whether some further communication and clarification from the LA would be welcomed.
Peter Collins (PC) commented that he personally was very well informed because of his attendance at the other meetings where this is discussed. However, as chair of the secondary heads’ association he was conscious of relatively little engagement from other heads not in a similar position, and that this should probably be interpreted as not having particular concerns.
Jamie Rockman (JR) asked whether there could be greater visibility of what the likely impacts are going to be, so that there could be general agreement that joining the programme represents an acceptable level of risk. NB accepted this as a fair request and suggested it could be referred to the DSG Transformation Board. JK further commented that he was happy to provide greater transparency on the impact assessments in the appropriate meetings.
Maggie Waller (MW) commented that most governors would be fairly oblivious to the issues unless they were Forum members but that the impact of the deficit reduction on services to schools is what would interest them; could there be some form of briefing for governors at some point? Gill Denham (GD) agreed and further commented that whatever actual headteacher awareness levels, they're worrying more about the impact on services than on the process.
Ben Bausor (BB) asked whether there had been any briefing for parents, particularly those children have high needs and might have some concerns. JK confirmed that we there was parent representation on the DSG Transformation Board through Special Voices.
PC commented that given that this safety valve scheme is not unique to Slough, it may be worth establishing whether there is any DfE view about how wider communication should be managed, particularly in relation to governors and the parent community. Inclusion in the safety valve programme would be a really positive step forward for Slough and doesn't need to become a ‘more cuts, everything's going to go’ - for which there is the potential to not handled carefully. The Chair agreed with PC that it could be viewed very negatively unless communication is handled carefully. JK agreed to raise the issue of communication in other relevant meetings.