July 19, 2021, FeNews: Creating sustainable high needs systems https://www.fenews.co.uk/press-releases/72860-creating-sustainable-high-needs-systems
How can local authorities manage their high needs systems and associated spending in a sustainable way? Sustainable and effective high needs systems should be a priority of local authority leadership. The ‘safety valve’ intervention programme has demonstrated just how quickly good leadership and genuine collaboration across education and finance can identify suitable and innovative solutions, for the benefit of children and young people with special education needs and/or disabilities (SEND). The government recognises that, over recent years, significant pressures on high needs budgets have resulted in many local authorities accruing deficits on their Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG). The right response to tackling this is a multi-faceted approach which looks to the heart of the issues: significant increases in high needs funding nationally; targeted intervention for the local authorities which have struggled the most; and reform from the upcoming cross government SEND review. The SEND review is considering improvements to make sure the SEND system is consistent, high quality, integrated and financially sustainable for the future. Nevertheless, all local authorities must take responsibility for effective management of their high needs systems in the short term. Many local authorities continue to do just that: work effectively to manage their high needs systems and associated spending in a sustainable way, supported by the significant funding increases since 2020-21, for the benefit of the children and young people they serve. They will be in a strong position to modernise in line with the SEND review as change is implemented. For some local authorities, however, there is a more urgent need to resolve issues with the sustainability of their high needs systems. These local authority leaders have an immediate opportunity to get on the front foot in advance of the SEND review, by taking effective steps now. We know many local authorities are working hard to be sustainable already, in particular in light of the temporary ring-fence for DSG deficits (up to the end of 2022-23). Sustainable high needs systems are essential for the effective ongoing support of children and young people with SEND, and this will be the focus for any future high needs system. Furthermore, as it stands, local authorities will need to demonstrate their ability to cover DSG deficits from their available reserves from 2023-24 onwards. In 2020-21, the Department for Education introduced the ‘safety valve’ intervention programme for those local authorities with the very highest percentage DSG deficits, recognising that help would be needed for these authorities to turn things around in a short space of time. The programme required those local authorities to develop substantial plans for reform to their high needs systems and associated spending, with support and challenge from the department, to rapidly place them on a sustainable footing. The authorities will be held to account for their reform and savings via regular reporting to the department. The department will help the local authorities with additional funding over time to contribute to their historic deficits, contingent on delivery of the reforms.