Teachers' jobs 'risked by reckless lack of Covid funds'

Schools are considering redundancies and should not be forced to go broke before getting help, says heads' leader
9th December 2020, 5:51pm
John Roberts


Teachers' jobs 'risked by reckless lack of Covid funds'

Coronavirus: The Naht School Leaders' Union Has Warned That Many Schools Will Not Qualify For The Government's Latest Covid Funding Support

A headteachers' leader has warned that a lack of extra Covid funding for schools from the government is "reckless" and could lead to redundancies.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders' union, said that many schools will not be eligible for a new government Covid fund for supply teacher costs, which, he added, is only open to those who have "depleted reserves down to almost nothing".

He pointed out that financial support programmes for other sectors, such as the furlough scheme, did not wait for "business or individuals go broke before they get help".

"Schools should not be put under this kind of pressure," Mr Whiteman said.

He warned that the situation of having unmet Covid costs was pushing some schools into considering redundancies.

Background: Covid costs are 'pushing schools over the edge', heads warn

Covid: Thousands demand funding for school coronavirus costs

Treasury: DfE in talks over ensuring that schools do not have to close 

Last month the government launched the Covid Workforce Fund to allow schools that face major staff shortages to apply for help with the extra costs they face during the current half-term.

Coronavirus: Restrictions on schools getting extra funding

But the new "short-term" funding will only be available to schools if they have spent a set amount of their cash reserves and hit a government threshold for the number of teachers who are off work.

Mr Whiteman said: "The various pots of Covid 'catch-up' funding available come with so many strings attached and caveats that they are insufficient to meet the needs of all pupils in all schools, and many schools will find that they are not eligible.

"Costs are still mounting, but the expectation is that schools must run their already depleted reserves down to almost nothing before being eligible for the very limited staff costs scheme that is in place."

Mr Whiteman questioned why schools had been treated differently to other sectors.

He added: "The lack of extra financial help for schools to respond to Covid has been reckless. You can see that the government has supported other sectors and said, 'Look, we will keep making sure you can respond appropriately,' but schools have been treated differently. 

"The reliance on supply staff, for example, has been expensive and is continuing. It's a real worry for school leaders and I am already talking to some who are having to contemplate going into redundancy consultations in the new calendar year because they know that their budgets need to be balanced as a result of Covid.

"Now, that cannot be right. Covid costs are entirely out of their control. 

"The safety measures that the government requires schools to implement have significant costs attached to them. Self-isolation of teachers and delivering remote and blended learning has additional costs, too. 

"It cannot be right that these are met from existing budgets that were already under strain."

To qualify for the DfE's Covid Workforce Fund, schools and colleges must be experiencing either a short-term teacher absence rate of 20 per cent or more or a long-term teacher absence rate of 10 per cent or more.

They can only apply for the fund once their reserves are down to 4 per cent of their annual income.

But claims for this funding can be backdated to 1 November.

When the fund was launched, education secretary Gavin Williamson said: "Keeping schools and colleges open is a national priority, which is why I am launching 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." 

The funding announcement came after pressure from education unions to reimburse schools for the extra costs they have faced as a result of Covid-19 since reopening this term.

A petition calling for the government to reimburse schools for these costs passed 15,000 signatures in just one week.

The Department for Education has been contacted for comment.


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