Need to know: The Covid workforce fund explained

Colleges will be able to apply for funding to cover the cost of staff absences between 1 November and 31 December
16th December 2020, 1:32pm
Kate Parker

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Need to know: The Covid workforce fund explained

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/need-know-covid-workforce-fund-explained
The Covid Workforce Fund For Fe Colleges: All You Need To Know About Applying For Special Funding To Cover Teacher & Staff Absences

The Department for Education has published details on how the Coronavirus (Covid-19) Workforce Fund to support colleges and special post-16 institutions will work.

Who is eligible?

The fund is available to general FE colleges, sixth-form colleges and special post-16 institutions, and offers support for colleges to help to cover the cost of workforce absences between 1 November and 31 December 2020. Colleges can backdate claims to 1 November.

What costs are covered by the fund?

If colleges cannot manage staff absences using existing staff and resources, they can claim for funding to cover the costs of: 

  • Employing, either through agencies or directly contracting, supply teachers, or supply support staff where that role is to cover teacher absences.
  • Increasing hours of part-time teaching staff where the additional hours are being used to cover teacher absences or increasing hours of part-time education support staff where that role is to cover teacher absences.
  • Making necessary amendments to support staff terms and conditions to enable them to take on additional responsibilities.
  • Employing supply education and non-education support staff either through agencies or directly contracting.
  • Increasing the hours of part-time education and non-education support staff. 

Colleges cannot claim for: 

  • Training or other incidental staff-related costs.
  • Increasing pro-rata pay, unless there is a commensurate increase in responsibilities associated with undertaking the work.
  • Cover for absence where the teaching or training delivery is undertaken on a fully commercial basis.
  • Capital costs to support staff delivering education remotely.

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Which staff absences can colleges claim for?

Staff must be permanent and on the payroll or employed on a long-term contract; for example, maternity cover or long-term sick cover.

Colleges cannot claim for temporary staff.

When it comes to support staff absence, that can include both education (specialist support staff) and non-education support staff (cleaning, catering, transport, IT, therapy, health and estates staff) who are necessary to avoid full or partial closure or who fulfil a legal duty. 

What are the conditions for accessing the funding?

The DfE has set out two main criteria that colleges must meet to be eligible for funding: a financial threshold and a workforce absence threshold. 

As well as those thresholds, colleges must also be able to show that they: 

  • Were open for on-site delivery on the days in question.
  • Can certify that staffing absences claimed for through this fund are necessary in avoiding partial or full closure, or to maintain on-site delivery. This includes assessing their need for additional staff funding; for example, whether staff cover is needed if a teacher is providing remote education while isolating.
  • Can evidence claims,
  • Are not claiming for costs from an existing insurance policy; for example, a supply teacher or staff absence insurance policy, 
  • Have tried alternative mitigations first before claiming for the funding, Colleges should only apply for this fund once these options have been used. 

Therefore, if a college meets the absence threshold but can manage staff absences using existing staff and resources, these must be used in the first instance. Where relevant, colleges will be asked to self-certify that they meet the requirements on the claims form.

The financial threshold

Sixth-form and general FE colleges will be eligible if the data submitted for the November financial return demonstrates an end of month cash position of 45 days or less for the corporation at any point over the period November 2020 to March 2021.

Special post-16 institutions will be eligible for this additional funding if their reserves at the end of March 2021 are no more than 4 per cent of their annual income. Through the assurance process, funding can be clawed back where this criterion is not met at the year end.

The workforce absence threshold

Sixth-form and general FE colleges must be experiencing either:

  • A teacher absence rate at or above 20 per cent on a given day.
  • A teacher absence rate of 10 per cent or above where that has been experienced for 15 or more consecutive days (not including weekends).

A day is defined as a weekday on which the college is fully open for on-site delivery, in line with the FE operational guidance.

College must meet or exceed either of the above absence thresholds to be eligible. Once they reach either threshold, they can claim for costs incurred covering absences above that. 

If absences initially claimed under the short-term threshold become long-term, colleges can no longer count that towards their short-term absence rate. 

Colleges should calculate their teacher absence rate at a whole corporation level rather than the individual teacher level. For example, they may have a sustained absence rate of 15 per cent for four weeks, but with different staff members absent throughout that period.

If a college delivers provision on multiple campus sites, institutions are expected to consider options using capacity across the different sites before considering spending extra money on staffing. If the movement of staff between sites is not viable - for example, if they are more than an hour apart by car - the absence threshold can be applied at campus level.

What about the absence threshold for special post-16 institutions?

The absence threshold for special post-16 colleges differs slightly. They can claim if: 

  • They have a total teacher and leader absence rate at or above 15 per cent on a given day.
  • They have a total teacher and leader absence rate of 10 per cent or above where that has been experienced for 15 or more consecutive days (not including weekends).

In addition, when claiming for education and non-education support staff costs, special post-16 institutions must be experiencing either:

  • A total support staff absence rate (teaching assistants and other staff) at or above 15 per cent on a given day.
  • A lower total support staff absence rate (teaching assistants and other staff) of 10 per cent or above where that has been experienced for 15 or more consecutive days (not including weekends).

However, special colleges must use existing staff and resources first, in the same way other colleges are required to. 

How can colleges access the funding?

The DfE says that colleges should make the necessary payments from their existing budgets and record them in line with local finance policies. Colleges will then be able to make claims for costs eligible for reimbursement in the spring of 2021. More detailed guidance about the claims process will be published then.

Costs will only be reimbursed where the college is eligible and meets the conditions outlined. 

What evidence is needed for claims and how does the assurance process work?

When claiming for the fund, colleges will have to provide assurance that costs are legitimate. The DfE says that before submitting claims colleges should: 

  • Make sure they have considered the criteria and can certify that they meet those criteria when claiming.
  • Consider whether they meet the financial threshold and workforce absence threshold.
  • Ensure that they retain evidence to demonstrate that the absence threshold has been met for each day claimed.
  • Keep records of all expenditure relating to staff absence - as is usual with all spending, these records will be necessary for local audit arrangements.
  • Make sure they keep records to evidence the eligibility of support staff.
  • Confirm that the chief executive, principal, finance director or business manager who submits the claim has given due consideration to their financial duties when doing so and certifies that the claim is fraud and error-free.
  • Be able to identify this income, and the related expenditure, and confirm it was appropriately used, when reporting their accounts.

In order to reduce the burden of duplicating the data return, the DfE has said that colleges can choose to provide consent on their claims form which allows the DfE to access any data relevant to their application that is already provided via the educational settings status form.

If consent is given, this data will be used as the initial basis upon which claims will be checked, though the DfE reserves the right for post-assurance checks to validate these returns.

Colleges can submit one overall claim, but will need to itemise each period of absence. Colleges do not need to provide evidence of individual items on the claim, but colleges should hold these records.

The DfE says it reserves the right to audit the expenditure and claw back the money if the claims do not meet the guidance, and it will be carrying out assurance checks on a sample of the claims. 

Colleges are required to notify the DfE immediately via the Education and Skills Funding Agency enquiry form if they become aware of any instance of error, suspected fraud or financial irregularity in the claim.

Will colleges continue to receive their core funding as normal?

Colleges will receive their core funding allocations as normal, as well as the funding through the 16 to 19 tuition fund. The DfE is clear that colleges should not divert the tuition fund, which should not be used to help meet with the costs of staff absence.

What about high-needs funding?

The DfE says that local authorities will continue to receive their high-needs funding and should pay top-up and other high-needs funding to colleges. This funding is not intended to cover any additional costs relating to changes in SEND provision organised by local authorities for individual children and young people with education, health and care (EHC) plans.

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