Quarter of schools 'need emergency Covid cash'

Schools in disadvantaged areas are in particular need of financial assistance amid extra Covid costs, warns report
4th December 2020, 12:01am


Quarter of schools 'need emergency Covid cash'

Coronavirus: A Quarter Of Schools Need Emergency Cash To Cope With The Extra Covid Costs, Warns Report

Around a quarter of schools may not be able to cover the financial costs of Covid safety measures and around 1,500 schools are at "particular risk of great financial hardship", according to a report published today.

The report, from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), says that increased cleaning, hiring supply staff where teachers are self-isolating and personal protective equipment (PPE) are among the extra costs adding up to have "a considerable effect" on revenue streams.

At the same time, schools have lost "a small but significant share" of their income from self-generated sources such as breakfast and after-school clubs and being able to hire out their facilities - yet are still having to cover the teachers' pay rise this year.

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Jenna Julius, the report author and an economist at the NFER, said: "Emergency support is needed now to help meet the costs of Covid-19, particularly for deprived schools without the financial resilience to meet the costs of the pandemic from their existing budgets.

"Schools are facing substantial extra costs to keep their staff and pupils safe, and the existing funding provision is insufficient to cover these extra costs in some schools."

Coronavirus: The financial impact on schools

The report suggests that the government's catch-up support is unlikely to reach all the pupils who need it as there are not enough places on the National Tutoring Programme for all disadvantaged pupils.

Pupils in the most deprived schools, who are in the greatest need of catch-up support, are at the greatest risk of losing out, according to the NFER's analysis.

While the government has pumped in an extra £2.6 billion into schools this year, it has been criticised for not providing enough support to help schools cover the costs of the pandemic.

Last week the Department for Education announced the Covid Workforce Fund to cover costs of extra staff, yet today's report says the scheme's eligibility criteria suggests it "will not go far towards easing the current resource pressures on schools".

The fund, which will be backdated to 1 November and cover the current half-term, will only be available to schools and colleges facing high levels of staff absences, or significant budget pressures.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the fund had "too many caveats".

He added: "The fact that deprived schools are under the greatest financial pressure as a result of the Covid pandemic is a damning indictment of the government's failure to provide the support that is so desperately needed

 "Their budgets were already extremely tight before the pandemic and they simply cannot sustain this additional pressure.

The report also highlights how the government's pledge to "level up" school funding has resulted in schools in deprived areas gaining less money - because deprived schools already received higher levels of funding per pupil to reflect the increased challenges they face, so experienced the smallest increases in funding as a result of levelling up.

Mary Bousted, joint-general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said: "It is unsurprising that schools in deprived areas are suffering most. The introduction of minimum per pupil funding levels mean money is being directed to better off areas, irrespective of need."

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders' union, said some schools could be "pushed over the edge financially".

"Our research shows that in just the first few weeks of term schools spent on average more than £8,000 each on the safety measures demanded by the government. With restrictions set to continue until March next year, costs are spiralling."

A DfE spokesperson said: "Keeping schools and colleges open is a national priority, which is why we launched the Covid Workforce Fund, to support schools and colleges facing significant budget pressures and staff absences.

"This new funding comes on top of our funding for schools facing exceptional costs during the summer months, the £1 billion Covid catch-up fund to help all children make up for lost learning, and the core school funding that is seeing the biggest increase in a decade.

"This year, schools are also receiving over £2.4 billion for the most disadvantaged children through the Pupil Premium."

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