The Chair advised Forum members that the paper for this item had been send as a supplementary agenda due to the extension of the consultation process. The paper summarised the results of the DSG consultation which closed on Monday 7th November and refers to the discussions of the 5-16 task group held on the same day
NB reminded Forum members that each year the LA can request to transfer up to 0.5% of the total funds out of the schools block into the other DSG blocks, subject to consultation with schools and Forum approval. The consultation response rate was disappointing – only 7 schools responded. However, the view expressed by those schools that did respond was clearly in favour of the block transfers proposed.
The Chair advised Forum that the paper itself was essentially a summary of the consultation document and explained the role of Forum in the decision process. Forum members were expected to:
(a) approve, or not, the transfer of £100k from Schools Block to CSSB to support the admissions function
(b) approve, or not, the transfer from Schools block to High Needs block, to a maximum of 0.5% less the transfer to CSSB
(c) endorse, or not, the LA recommendation the basic entitlement factor be used to distribute to schools any additional headroom funding in the final DSG allocation.
The Chair further advised Forum members that some of the 5-16 task group members were involved in discussion after the close of the consultation. Comments were circulated to those members of the task group who were not able to attend and were invited to add any further comments. The Chair asked MW and Jo Rockall (JR) to feed back on the Task group recommendations.
JR advised that the Task group’s recommendation was to agree to both transfers, and to endorse the distribution of headroom through basic entitlement. Even though the consultation response rate was low, schools did have the opportunity to respond, and the view from those who did was overwhelmingly in favour. The Task Group had discussed issues including the pressure on school's budgets, the increasing complexity of some of the pupils with whom schools are working, and the reduction of some of the services across the town to support them.
MW endorsed JR’s comments, adding that the low response level was surprising but may be due in part to the DfE timescales. MW noted that distribution through basic entitlement had always been the principle adopted when there was any DSG headroom to distribute as this was fair to all schools. MW referred to the discussion about the safety valve programme and the need to minimise the risk of the LA not gaining the support of the DfE. It was acknowledged that progress had been made to reduce the in-year deficit, despite the impact on services and the concerns that have been voiced.
The Chair thanked MW and JR and opened up the discussion to comments/questions from members.
Angela Mellish (AM) asked why the admissions team needed this extra money and whether this request would be a repeated in the future. JK advised that a detailed paper was issued last year when the request was first made. This highlighted that the request was to fund the expansion of the admissions staff team, including additional capacity to support the fair access process and deal with the increasing complexity of Slough’s admissions requirements. NB confirmed that block transfers are only for one year and the guidance is clear that agreements cannot be for the longer term.
MW asked for clarification about the funding of the CSSB and whether there were pressures from DfE to reduce it. NB confirmed the historic factors in the CSSB have been reducing by 20% year on year since 2021. The LA did have an opportunity to ask for protection but this had not happened. NB stated his intention to go to the ESFA to ask for retrospective protection – this may be unlikely but it is worth trying. The Chair confirmed that NB will be coming back to Forum in March with proposals for CSSB funding in 2023/24, with some indication of the likely future of CSSB funding.
Valerie Harffey (VH) commented that her experience of the admissions service was better in some respects since the transfer was agreed last year, there were still issues in relation to late offers of places but asked whether it would be worthwhile getting feedback from other schools. JK advised that there was a route outside Forum to raise issues with the service. GD asked whether schools might respond to a consultation about admissions, focusing on whether the service has improved. JK replied that this could be considered. The Chair confirmed that it is not the function of Schools Forum to performance manage any of the CSSB service functions, but in the context of setting the budget Forum does have an interest in ensuring that any funding that is being transferred is being spent wisely and with relative efficiency. This requires some level of feedback from the LA on the effectiveness of the services. The Chair therefore asked JK to include some comment on the effectiveness of the services when proposals for the CSSB are brought to Forum in March, and confirmed that he, JK and NB would discuss the format of the information presented outside the meeting.
Peter Collins supported MW’s view that block transfers for this year should be seen as a supportive measure in terms of giving credibility to the safety valve process, and asked whether establishing with the DfE whether a position from Forum about block transfer in future years would be helpful in strengthening and supporting the safety valve process. JK agreed to consider this.
The Chair moved the discussion on to making decisions about the proposals brought forward by the LA. Firstly, he proposed that Forum supported the LA’s recommendation to allocate any headroom in the school block funding to mainstream schools and academies in 2023/24 through basic entitlement, in line with previous practice. Forum members unanimously agreed to endorse this proposal.
Secondly, the Chair asked for Forum’s approval to transfer £100k from the Schools block to the CSSB in 2023/24 to support the admissions service. This was agreed by Forum members, with a caveat from NS that the LA considers alternative methods of funding the admissions function in future years. MW supported this view, but commented that care needed to be taken not to create unnecessary complication in considering alternative funding.
Thirdly, the Chair sought clarification of the exact sum proposed for the transfer from the Schools to High Needs block. NB confirmed that the figure of £699k in the paper was based on provisional DSG settlement. The actual figure would depend on the final settlement figure and the request was therefore for a transfer totalling 0.5% of Schools Block funding less the £100k already approved for admissions. The Chair confirmed that the principle is a total 0.5% transfer in total across the two requests. Forum members approved the transfer with no further comments.