Revealed: That ministerial Zoom meeting about funding

What was really said in that ministerial Zoom call about funding to cover teacher absence? Michael Tidd can only imagine
5th December 2020, 4:00pm
Michael Tidd

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Revealed: That ministerial Zoom meeting about funding

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/revealed-ministerial-zoom-meeting-about-funding
Coronavirus: What Was Really Said In That Ministerial Meeting About Giving Schools Extra Funding To Cover Teacher Absence?

"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen - thank you for joining us for this. I am hoping that the minister will be here shortly, although I've not heard from him as yet. As you'll know, we've been getting rather a lot of stick from the… Oh, hang on, I think I've got the minister in the waiting room… Just one second.

"Good morning, minister, thank you for joining us.

"Erm, I think you're on mute, minister. Yes, just press the little red icon. It looks like a microphone."

"Can you hear me now? Ah, good. Morning, Watson; morning, everyone. Now, what's the panic?"

"Well, sir. I was just explaining that we've been getting rather a lot of stick from the unions about school funding."

"Humph. So what's new?"

Coronavirus: Managing the whole pandemic situation

"Well, it's just that they're saying that schools are rapidly going into deficit, because of the whole pandemic situation, what with staff absence and whatnot. The schools are complaining that, because of all the testing delays and then the number of staff having to isolate, they're finding themselves rather short-staffed. There have been quite a lot of Covid cases around schools, and I suppose losing staff for a fortnight at a time must be quite tricky."

"Well, I don't see that that's such a problem. They've only got half the kids in, so surely they only need half the teachers, anyway?"

"Oh, er, well, that decision was scrapped, if you recall, sir? All the schools are fully open after your edict earlier in the year. So, there isn't much spare capacity, really."

"Well, can't they use their support staff to cover?"

"Again, sir, you have been quite vocal about there being too many teaching assistants in the system. So, what with that and the budget cuts - sorry, I mean, savings - quite a few schools have cut back on their number of support staff. Often what's left is just the staffing required to meet the statutory requirements of education, health and care plans."

"Oh, right. Well, what's needed then, Watson? And make sure it's something cheap - you know that we're no good at persuading the Treasury to part with any cash for education. It's just not our strength."

"I feared that was what you would say, sir, but having been through a briefing with the department this morning, we can't really see much choice. The reality is that schools need staff to run safely, and if they're all isolating or waiting for tests, then - well, schools need more money to pay for extra staff to cover them. Sorry."

How can we make this problem go away?

"Well, right… let's see. How much do we need to make this problem go away?"

"Well, we've looked at the estimated costs, sir…"

"No, I don't mean that. I mean, how much do we need to allocate to it to sound like we're doing something? If I'm going to be quizzed about this on Newsnight, I need a line to say we're putting funding into it. You know, like the old 'record amounts' stuff."

"Ah, yes, sir. Well, we thought if we offered funding with the right strings, then hopefully you wouldn't need any figures at all. We thought we could ask schools to apply for help, but make sure that hardly any get it. You know, insist they use up their reserves - regardless of what they were saving them for - and then put in some thresholds that hardly any will meet."

"Sounds perfect. What did you have in mind?"

"We thought, if we insist on 15 per cent of staff being out at a time, and exclude support staff, most schools won't meet the thresholds and it'll hardly cost us a thing - but you'll still be able to announce that schools have been offered funding if they really need it."

"Make it 20 per cent, Watson, just to be sure, and I think we've got a deal I can work with."

Michael Tidd is headteacher at East Preston Junior School in West Sussex. He tweets @MichaelT1979

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