(1) Mrs Prendergast introduced the Commissioning Plan for Education Provision in Kent. This was the latest edition of the 5 year rolling plan for Kent as a strategic commissioner of education. The Plan built on the positive achievements of previous years to fulfil the Council’s statutory responsibilities and non-statutory commitments to facilitate parental choice. This was not easy with the demand for specialist places increasing.
(2) Mrs Prendergast explained that she had met with all 12 district leaders and colleagues to present the plan which was generally very well received and all colleagues praised the good working relationship with KCC officers. The Commissioning Plan had previously been endorsed by Children’s Young People and Education Cabinet Committee in November 2021.
(3) Mr Abrahams explained that the Commissioning Plan was produced every year and was largely built on a forecast for the number of children who would need a school place. The year’s forecast showed a continuation of the trends observed over the past few years with a decrease in births in the county since 2012 mirroring the national picture. In the short to medium term the plans for additional provision were in response to localised pressures and the increase in demand for secondary school places. The longer term was forecasting a change in an upwards direction with an increase in the numbers of young people in Kent, in the main due to housing growth in recent years and projected in the future.
(4) The Leader commented on the underlying demographic pressure which would peak over the next few years and then the balance tipping towards housing pressures, the links with developer contributions and any future systems to secure levels of funding from developers.
(5) In response to a question about provision for special educational needs Mr Abrahams confirmed that the Commissioning Plan outlined a forecast for the number of children and young people expected to have an EHCP in the future given past trends. These numbers were a significant increase, the short term plan included commissioning additional provision to meet the expected need with anticipated changes in the need for provision in the longer term linking to the SEND strategy and the inclusion of children within mainstream settings; this was being monitored alongside inclusion work.
(6) Mrs Chandler commented that the Commissioning Plan contained capacity in mainstream schools for pupils with SEND. It was important to address the numbers forecast and the need for additional SEND places. It was also important to ensure that, where appropriate, children could benefit from education within a mainstream school, whilst bearing in mind that there would always be children for whom mainstream wasn’t appropriate. There was work going on in this area to ensure the education provision for those children was the best that could be provided with an emphasis on early identification and early support. Mrs Chandler also emphasised the commitment to small schools which were a significant part of communities in rural areas, KCC had a continued commitment to support these small schools with the challenges they were facing.
(7) Mr Murphy emphasised the point that S106 contributions would become more and more difficult, but this was being looked at carefully.
(8) The Leader thanked Mr Abrahams and Mrs Prendergast for the high-quality Plan submitted to Cabinet and for attending the meeting.
RESOLVED that Cabinet agree the Commissioning Plan for Education Provision in Kent 2022-26.