A HEADTEACHER has ‘no confidence’ in BCP Council officers to manage its education budgets as it is faced with a deficit of £63million.

As reported, schools’ budgets across Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole could be cut by 11 per cent as the council plans to cut its deficit in spending on special educational needs (SEND) support.

The council was invited to join the government’s Safety Valve programme in July of last year, which aims to cut deficits with sweeping reforms and strict cost-saving measures.

But Dr Dorian Lewis, headteacher of Bournemouth School, said that joining Safety Valve would see education, health and care plans (EHCPs) for children with SEND harder to obtain.

The headteacher said that the council introduce ‘much-lauded projects’ to reduce the deficit, but these have had ‘little, if any, effect’.

Dr Lewis said: “Amongst school leaders, there is no confidence in the LA being able to develop and implement a DSG (Dedicated School Grant) management plan over the short, medium or long term, whether or not the LA are part of the Department for Education’s Safety Valve (SV) intervention programme.”

He concluded: "I have no confidence in the ability of BCP to manage the DSG effectively and meet its statutory obligations."

This would mean that more children with high needs would need to be accommodated in mainstream schools.

“If any of these proposals are accepted, schools will have to manage with significantly less funding, whilst at the same time being expected to do more,” the head said.

He said that he believes the council has ‘mis-managed the DSG (Dedicated Schools Grant) since its inception in April 2019’.

Funds are allocated to schools through this grant which is split into four blocks, including the schools block, for mainstream schools, and the high needs block.

At the council’s inception in April 2019, the local authority’s DSG deficit was £3.6m.

This now stands at £36m as of March 2023, and is estimated to grow to £63m by March 2024, due to an overspend of £27m on high needs in 2023-24, and £92m by March 2025.

A government override is in place, allowing the deficit to be ignored, but this lapses at the end of the 2025/26 financial year.

Under current estimates, the council would be forced to issue a section 114 notice of bankruptcy in December of this year, as it would be unable to set a balanced budget for 2025-26, with the deficit being greater than the authority’s reserves.

The council is only able to transfer up to 0.5 per cent of the schools block funding to the high needs block, but under the safety valve programme and current proposals, this could be increased to 11 per cent for each school.

Councillor Richard Burton, portfolio holder for children and young people, said: “Alongside many other Local Authorities, our Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) budget has come under increasing pressure due to the increased demand for specialist school placements which outstrips supply.

“BCP Council has been participating in the Safety Valve Programme and considerable work has been undertaken, supported by the Department for Education (DfE) to look at the implication of meeting the requirements of the programme, balancing our deficit and meeting our regulatory and statutory duties.

“Throughout this work, the well-being of our children and young people and the quality of their education remains our absolute priority.

“The council has submitted a 15-year plan to the Safety Valve programme and is awaiting a response from the DfE.

“Feedback on this from the DfE stated that the DSG Management Plan was a thorough and diligent piece of work which explored all options without making implausible assumptions with unacceptable risks on delivery.

“As part of this work, three models of transfer from schools funding have been proposed to the Schools’ Forum. One of these proposals was an 11% transfer from schools’ budgets. The proposal was an illustration of the support required to manage the DSG deficit.

“Any changes to funding for schools over and above those agreed by the schools Forum would need the Secretary of State’s agreement."