Agenda and minutes

Schools' Forum
Thursday, 5th July, 2018 4.00 pm

Venue: Committee Room 3 - 3rd Floor - Civic Centre. View directions

Contact: Shelley Humphries  Telephone: 01902 554070 email: shelley.humphries@wolverhampton.gov.uk

Items
No. Item

1.

Welcome and Introductions

2.

Apologies

Minutes:

Apologies were received by Susan Lacey, Ray Green, Karen Elliott, Jeremy Parkes, Ian Browne and Jon Hopkins.

 

Claire Foster attended as a substitute for Susan Lacey.

3.

Declaration of Interest or Confidentiality

4.

Minutes of the Previous Meeting - 26 February 2018 pdf icon PDF 77 KB

[To approve the minutes of the previous meeting as a correct record and sign]

Minutes:

Resolved:

            That the minutes from the previous meeting be approved as a correct record.

5.

Matters Arising

[To consider any matters arising from the minutes of the previous meeting]

Minutes:

It was noted by the Chair that the meeting was a public meeting and for this to be amended on future paperwork.

 

The resignation of Gill Morris and Gemma Draycott had been noted and finding replacements would be addressed as part of the Constitution and Membership review.

6.

School Balances Report pdf icon PDF 104 KB

[Debra Boniface, Finance Manager to update the Forum on the balances held by schools as at 31 March 2018]

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Debra Boniface, Finance Manager presented the School Balances report and highlighted key points. In addition to the information contained in the report, several points were raised.

 

It was queried what the Department for Education [DfE] attitude was to devolved formula capital (DFC); there had been work done on this and the Forum were advised that:

·         there was a time limit of three years and five months in which to spend the money

·         the money could be used during April – August terms [this extension was due to work being done over the summer]

·         the return to the DfE was related to how much surplus remained

·         If a school was carrying surplus for longer than three years, this would be investigated to find out why

 

A report on DFC balances could be brought to the next Forum

 

One of the cases highlighted was that of the Orchard Centre with a balance of £1.2 million. It was explained that the PRUs work budgets as a whole and the case had been considered at the Arbitration Panel. In this case, there were genuine plans to utilise the money to fund the construction of a large sports hall. The build had been fully costed and was of a considerable size and it was stated that it would also be available for wider community use.

 

A concern was raised about the projected deficits and the Authority were advised by Forum members to keep these in check with appropriate recovery plans. In the specific case discussed, the school had grown in size and the Forum were assured that plans were in place to take the deficit down to zero within two years.

 

This led to a discussion on the subject of schools being converted to academies and the risk of this causing a deficit. The Forum were advised that, in one case where a school converted, the existing deficit of £899,000 was reduced to £500,000. Another case was highlighted where a deficit of £150,000 increased to £250,000 following conversion; the concern here was that the debt would be passed on to other schools. The Forum were assured by Bill Hague that the point had been noted, that each case was different and treated as such and that deficit balances were absorbed by the Local Authority General Fund, and not passed to other schools, in line with DfE regulations. The key issue was that schools were supported effectively and that any extra money was used for the benefit of pupils. 

 

The point that schools that planned to convert to Academy under the convertor mechanism (as opposed to the sponsored mechanism) carrying deficit took it with them was raised and Claire Nye, Director of Finance explained that Senior Executives and elected Members within the Council were aware of the deficit and the importance of monitoring and efforts were being made to make schools more accountable for spending. It was, however a challenge to prevent spending and it was queried whether there was a facility to take financial control.  ...  view the full minutes text for item 6.

7.

DSG Out-turn Report pdf icon PDF 61 KB

[Debra Boniface, Finance Manager to present the DSG Out-turn Report]

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Debra Boniface, Finance Manager presented the DSG Out-turn report to the Forum and highlighted key points. She explained the presentation of the data and that the layout had been realigned this year to sit in line with Agresso and submissions to DfE so all information appeared in the same format.

 

With regard to item 2.1 of the report, it was highlighted that there had been an error. It was queried how it had occurred and who was to accept accountability. The reason for the error was thought to be due to a change in staffing and that it may have occurred during the handover. The individual in question had left the authority before the error could be identified. Nothing had been lost however Debra’s team was noted to have worked hard to reconcile the issue and change the coding to ensure a similar problem didn’t reoccur.

 

Resolved:

            That the report be received and noted.

8.

Arbitration Panel Issues pdf icon PDF 57 KB

[Bill Hague, Head of School Organisation to update the Forum on Arbitration Panel Issues] -  [Report to follow]

 

Minutes:

Bill Hague presented the report, in the absence of Tom Knott, and highlighted key points. It was explained that the case of Penn Hall Special School was highly unusual and it was worth noting that school had changed leadership since the ratification to recover the excess money from the school. This led to the school being placed in a vulnerable financial position, so permission had been sought for the Arbitration Panel to reconvene and be recommended to return the funding to Penn Hall Special School.

 

A discussion followed during which the following key points were made:

 

·         It was important to ensure that excess money recovered from schools was allocated. The main view held by some Forum members was that unallocated money should not have been allowed to sit unused in the first instance. This was not thought to be best practice; if excess money was recovered, it should be used as soon as possible and spread across the City for the benefit of other schools.

 

·         It was noted that bidding had been opened for the recovered money, but not all bids had been successful which was why there was still unallocated money remaining. It was suggested that the bidding process be revisited.

 

·         It was suggested that clear guidelines should be added to the Terms of Reference for the Forum, so it is understood fully what happens following a decision made at Arbitration Panel to recover funds. These guidelines should be concise and watertight enough to hold up to scrutiny. It was not agreeable to the Forum to revisit the Arbitration Panel to request to directly return funds to a school it had been recovered from; the money should, in principal, not be made available to return. It was felt that this activity would give a poor perception of decisions made by the Arbitration Panel. Bill Hague, Head of Schools Organisation offered to prepare a paper for a review of these guidelines as part of the Constitution Review for the next meeting.

 

·         It was important to keep in mind that schools should not suffer as a result of any financial decisions. A better use of the money was thought to be to use it to prevent Wolverhampton’s children having to go outside the City. This could be done using matrix banding to filter it down to individual children.

 

Resolved:

1.    That there would be no second determination by the Arbitration Panel

 

2.    That the remaining uncommitted money be used to prevent children from having to go school out of the City

 

3.    That Adrian Leach prepare a paper detailing how the money was allocated to the next meeting

 

4.    That the review of the Schools’ Forum constitution includes a review of the Arbitration Panel as well as the bidding process for uncommitted monies

 

9.

Update on High Needs Review - Sub Group pdf icon PDF 298 KB

[Tom Knott, School Organisational Manager to update the Forum on the High Needs Review Sub Group]

Minutes:

Adrian Leach, Head of SEN presented the High Needs Review update in Tom Knott’s absence. The report covered a refresh of the High Needs Funding Sub-Group and three recommendations were made to approve: the proposed Terms of Reference, the Work Programme and the principles of the High Needs Funding Sub-Group.

 

Resolved:

To approve all three recommendations.

10.

Review of Forum Constitution and Membership

[The Chair to discuss the Review of Forum Constitution and Membership with the Forum]

 

11.

Any Other Business

Minutes:

Unitary Charge Payments

The Forum were interested in further clarification on this subject. It was agreed that a better understanding of its principles, how it’s set and what drives its formula was required across the board.

 

Council Officers present advised the group that they had not been party to the decision themselves and it was noted that the lack of understanding of the charges posed a problem for budget setting however, a piece of work was being undertaken to investigate the issue and gain a clearer understanding to pass on to the Forum. The complexities of the models had been a challenge, but Bill Hague advised that once a report was ready, this would be brought to the Forum.

 

Members agreed it was a serious issue and that a legally sound, transparent and cost-effective agreement was required. It was noted that the Schools’ Forum had approved the Private Finance Initiatives [PFI] but it was queried whether this may need revisiting? It was stated that Meredith Teasdale, Director of Education had enlisted the assistance of the Council’s legal department to contribute to the investigation.

 

Northern House – Special School

An ongoing situation with financial pressures had been identified at the school. It was supported by the local authority and work had been done with trust legacy issues. Members of the Forum queried how the school had come by these pressures and would the Forum be given details; however it was considered an EFSA issue rather than a Schools’ Forum issue.

 

The Chair thanked the Forum for their insights and closed the meeting.

 

Resolved:

            That Bill Hague bring a report and findings on Unitary Charges to the Forum once available.