Today was the May 2015 meeting of Essex Schools Forum. Full papers get posted by the LA here, so I will limit myself here to the topics discussed today that are of particular interest or where I made contributions. There were also some confidential items discussed, which I cannot report on this blog because they relate to the finances of particular schools.
In County Provision for SEND Pupils
The LA presented further work on their scheme to invest in building more special school places. Part of this was a request to revise upwards the cost of this scheme from 0.24% of delegated budgets to 0.35% of delegated budgets. I clarified that this would, in practice, fall on AWPU rather than across multiple factors, and this was confirmed to be the case. I also queried how the proposed expenditure would help with the aims of improving the quality of provision, increasing capacity, and increasing cost efficiency, and asked what evidence the LA had that spending this funding on capital projects for special schools would result in better outcomes than simply investing more per pupil in the existing special school places. The LA responded that 95% of special schools in Essex are Good or Outstanding, so the need was mainly to increase the number of spaces. Finally, I queried the criteria used by the LA to prioritise their building projects. I was told that they were ranked by officers based on (a) cost effectiveness (revenue cost per pupil), (b) transport / geographical need, (c) quality of provision.
Several SF members were unhappy that there wasn’t both a more concise presentation of the financial costs and benefits and that there was not school-level modelling of the impact of the delegated budget reduction. The meeting resolved to request these clarifications be brought back to the next SF meeting before coming to a decision.
Falling Rolls Fund
I noticed that there is an interesting anomaly in the falling rolls fund. If a good or outstanding school has a roll that is project to fall and then increase, it may access this fund (subject to technical definitions of fall and increase). However, it may be possible that the increase is not to the same level as before the fall, and yet schools could possibly access this fund to mitigate the impact of staff restructuring costs. For example, if School A went from 1000 pupils to 780 pupils and then to 800 pupils, it would be eligible for help; School B going from 1000 pupil straight to 800 would not. I therefore asked Forum to consider separating the elements of cost relating to maintaining provision at the target steady-state roll from those elements of cost relating to downsizing when considering a future criteria revision. Schools Forum also agreed that when academies apply to this fund in the future they will need to provide the LA with the same level of scrutiny over their finances that the LA has over maintained schools already.
School Finance Review Group
The recommendations made from our last formula review group meeting were noted without comment.