Incredible: Wirral Council officer states to EFA that special schools’ minimum funding guarantee is “unaffordable”

Incredible: Wirral Council officer states to EFA that special schools’ minimum funding guarantee is “unaffordable”

Incredible: Wirral Council officer states to EFA that special schools’ minimum funding guarantee is “unaffordable”

                                    

Labour councillors at a public meeting of Wirral Council's Coordinating Committee vote to consult on closing Lyndale School (27th February 2014)

Labour councillors at a public meeting of Wirral Council’s Coordinating Committee vote to consult on closing Lyndale School (27th February 2014)

I received a response yesterday from the Education Funding Agency to my Freedom of Information Act request about Wirral Council’s application for an exemption from the minimum funding guarantee (that was later withdrawn).

Wirral Council assumed it would make a successful application for an exemption from the 98.5% minimum funding guarantee. This was what led to the predicted shortfall in Lyndale School’s budget of £72,000 for 2014/15. This application was later withdrawn (before the Education Funding Agency reached a decision on it) which led to Lyndale School’s financial forecast for 2014/15 changing from a deficit to a surplus.

The detail of the rationale behind the application is interesting though and is included below. It seems to it was emailed to the Education Funding Agency by an Andrew Roberts (Senior Manager, School Funding & Resources). The date of the email isn’t included, however I’ve submitted an internal review request for that too.

What’s interesting is that it in the application Andrew Roberts states “However proposals include a contingency fund to financially support any specialist provision that may experience financial difficulties.” However at the Coordinating Committee meeting of the 27th February the eight Labour councillors voted against an amendment (six voted for the amendment who were the Lib Dem councillor, five Conservative councillors and the parent governor rep) proposed and seconded by the Conservative councillors that was “We would like to seek assurance that the required contingency funding is in place to top up the special educational funding to ensure that the level of funding required for the best care and education is provided for all children.”

Wirral Council’s Andrew Roberts also states “Without capping the MFG (minimum funding guarantee) costs an additional £800,000 which would be unaffordable, whilst capping would defer the introduction of the new top-up structure.”

This however seems to contradict what Surjit Tour stated at Budget Cabinet on the 12th February 2014 in his advice to Cabinet deciding on their recommendation to Council for the Schools Budget for 2014/15 (I’ve underlined the relevant section of what Surjit Tour said) which was

“Queries have been raised with regards to whether there is an impact on the outstanding call in, in relation to the Schools Budget which may have a direct impact.

One of them in particular is the proposals for changes to the school’s top up payments for schools with high needs. Members will be aware that the matter is to be considered by the Policy and Performance Coordinating Committee on the 27th February. The position with regards to the proposed Schools Budget is that it includes a contingency provision and that provision is considered sufficient to meet any potential financial implications that may arise as a result of the forthcoming call in hearing and therefore you can agree the, the proposed budget is both sufficient and sufficiently flexible to address any potential implications that may arise and that therefore means that the budget can be proposed to Council forthwith.”

The contingency referred to was for £908,900. At this point you might point out that £908,900 is more than enough to cover the £800,000 extra needed by the minimum funding guarantee. However if you read this report to the Wirral Schools Forum meeting of the 22nd January 2014 it states what the £908,900 contingency is planned to be used for and I quote:

Contingency. The contingency identified of £908,900 is required to cover the potential costs of:

  • Adjustments with the EFA for post 16 students. There are ongoing discussions about the costs of mainstream school and academy High Needs places (£6,000 per place) which potentially will cost £372,000
  • Any unforeseen consequences arising from the implementation and review of High Needs Top Ups.
  • Unfunded growth in place numbers – there has been a small net increase in the planned number of High Needs places
  • Any mismatch between places identified with providers and places taken up.
  • Inflationary pressures within Non Maintained Special Schools.
  • Uncertainty about the overall statement numbers

So with Wirral Council officers stating that funding Lyndale School is first “unaffordable”, then another officer stating that “provision is considered sufficient to meet any potential financial implications” is it any wonder that people are confused on this point?

The minutes of the Coordinating Committee deciding the call in state “The Committee noted that the minimum funding guarantee was now more affordable, therefore the application for an exemption from this requirement had been withdrawn.”

How can it be “more affordable” though? Has the designation of what the contingency fund to be used for changed from what was agreed by the Wirral Schools Forum in January (as outlined above) to a decision behind the scenes to withdraw the minimum funding guarantee exemption application and use the contingency to fund the minimum funding guarantee? Is the reason why funding is no longer mentioned with regards to Lyndale School because officers stated (at different times) that it was both affordable and unaffordable (and as the underlying budget hasn’t changed both positions can’t both be accurate can they)?

Wirral Council’s Julia Hassall now says that the consultation on closing Lyndale School is because of pupil numbers as there are twenty-three children at the school which has a capacity for forty. Following the review by Eric Craven there was a reduction in the planned admission number for Lyndale School last year from forty-five to forty. I’m sure Wirral Council (if it wanted to) could reduce the planned admission number at Lyndale School for future years to a lower number such as thirty or twenty-five.

Wirral Council’s policy on the admission arrangements for primary schools for 2015-16 was agreed by Cabinet last Thursday. In it it states at “3.5 Special Needs.