Schools 'lack funding for 69% of extra Covid costs'

More half of all schools are now using their reserves to meet Covid-related expenses, warns new research
22nd December 2020, 12:01am
Catherine Lough


Schools 'lack funding for 69% of extra Covid costs'
Coronavirus: More Than Half Of Schools Are Now Using Up Their Reserves To Cover Covid-related Expenses, Research Warns

More than two-thirds of the extra costs that schools have faced from coping with the coronavirus have not been met by government, according to a new report.

The shortfall amounts to £40 per pupil in both primary and secondary schools, says the Education Policy Institute think tank.

It warns that, as result, more than half of schools are now using up their reserves, while a quarter have gone into deficit for the first time or have been pushed further into the red.

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The institute estimates that just 31 per cent of schools' extra expenses from the pandemic are covered by the government's support fund for exceptional coronavirus costs.

Coronavirus: Extra funding for schools 'inadequate'

The results of its survey of more than 700 schools covering March to November 2020 also suggest that the pressure of additional expenditure will be "felt most in schools with high levels of disadvantage".

"This comes at a time when recent funding announcements have been less generous for schools serving disadvantaged communities, and the responses to this survey suggest schools may now also be facing a shortfall in terms of funding for catch-up," the think tank reports.

Almost all schools reported additional spending on personal protective equipment (95 per cent) and cleaning supplies (99 per cent), while a large majority faced additional costs from signs (83 per cent), digital equipment (81 per cent) and handwashing facilities (73 per cent).

And schools also reported spending more on teaching staff over the period, with an average additional expenditure of £9,000 on teaching staff in primary schools, compared with £15,000 in secondary schools and £11,500 in special schools. 

"The data indicates that school leaders expect the additional staff spending between November 2020 and next July to be considerably higher," the report says.

"A possible explanation for this is that this period includes the winter months where school leaders may be anticipating the need for more cover staff as a higher infection rate in cold months leads to more staff being absent."

"Over half of schools have used their reserves to cover at least some of their additional costs caused by Covid-19, and, worryingly, a quarter of schools reported entering or extending a deficit balance," it adds.

The report says that 60 per cent of schools received additional funding that "amounted to less than half of the costs that they incurred. In a third of schools the additional funding amounted to less than a fifth of their expenditure".

Based on survey responses, the EPI estimates additional funding will cover about 42 per cent of additional spending incurred by schools that applied to the fund, but only 31 per cent of additional spending incurred across all schools.

The report also states that:

  • Since the start of the March lockdown, on average, primary schools' non-staff costs increased by around £13,000, and secondary schools' by nearly £43,000 (similar on a per-pupil level). Schools expect to spend a similar amount during the rest of the year.
  • Nine out of 10 schools have seen their incomes fall, with more affluent schools seeing the biggest reductions. These schools are more likely to miss out on voluntary contributions or income derived from hiring out their facilities.
  • A quarter of primary schools and half of secondary schools did report making some savings, largely on utilities.
  • More than half (57 per cent) of all schools are now using their reserves in order to meet Covid-related costs.
  • A similar proportion of schools (48 per cent of primaries and 50 per cent secondaries) do not expect to have balanced their budget by the end of the year, which would represent an increase of around 10 percentage points on 2018-19.
  • In some schools per-pupil costs could be even higher, as some will receive less government support, while many schools will not qualify for any government support at all.

Schools have also incurred costs on programmes to help pupils catch up with lost learning this year.

School survey data suggests uncertainty around whether schools are likely to end up spending more on pupil catch-up programmes than they receive in government funding via the £650 million catch-up premium.

And evidence suggests that disadvantaged schools are more likely to face a shortfall with their catch-up funding, as they can expect to spend more than other schools. The institute has called for the catch-up funding to be more targeted.

A third of schools also reported that they have made plans to pay for subsidised tuition via the National Tutoring Programme.

Bobbie Mills, report author and senior researcher at the Education Policy Institute (EPI), said: "Our research reveals the scale of the financial challenges facing schools as a result of the pandemic.

"While the government has offered some additional funding to help schools deal with their growing Covid-related expenses, we find that the majority of their costs will not be met by this funding and will have to be covered by funds from elsewhere.

"This is a critical year for pupils, as they look to catch up with learning following significant disruption to their education. It is essential that schools are on a stable financial footing, with sufficient resources to support their pupils.  

"Despite recent increases in school funding, budgets are likely to be under increased pressure as a result of the extra costs incurred this year, with schools serving disadvantaged areas facing some of the biggest challenges. The government needs to look at how it can offer further support to schools through this uncertain period."  

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "Ministers have rightly praised the fantastic work of schools during the Covid emergency, but warm words don't pay the bills.

"This report shows that the government has failed to recognise the financial impact on schools of the pandemic and failed to support them properly during a period in which they have operated under immense and relentless pressure.

"The small amount of financial support which the government has made available for extra costs during the emergency has been piecemeal, extremely limited in scope, and inadequate."



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