School leaders have criticised the Department for Education for not providing schools with extra funding to meet the costs of ensuring that all pupils can return to the classroom in September.
Guidance published today by the government reveals there are no plans to reimburse schools for the extra costs they will face preparing for all children to come back after the coronavirus lockdown.
Leading heads have told Tes that schools could face significant costs and should not be expected to meet them from their existing budgets.
Exclusive: Catch-up fund not targeted at the poor
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “It is perfectly obvious that schools and colleges will face extra costs and it is extremely frustrating that the government guidance is so dismissive of this important consideration.
Coronavirus: The extra costs involved in reopening schools in September
“These costs will include substantial signage around school and college sites to manage the planned ‘bubbles’ [groups of pupils], ensuring there are enough hand-washing and hand sanitiser facilities available, and more frequent cleaning of rooms and areas used by different groups.
"Taken together, these costs could be significant, and this is in the context of budgets which are already very tight. We will be pressing the government to make additional funding available.”
Stephen Tierney, chair of Headteachers' Roundtable think tank, has urged the government to rethink its decision not to provide schools with extra funding to support them to reopen.
“It is very demoralising for school leaders to be told they will need to meet these costs from their existing budgets at a time when there is absolutely no slack in the system and when school staff and leaders are worn out, having been on the go constantly since the middle of February.
"The government should rethink this and ensure that funding is made available to meet the extra costs that schools are definitely going to face.
“There are costs associated with extra cleaning, creating more washing stations – and that could involve capital costs. If lunchtimes are going to be staggered, this could involve an increase in the cost of catering staff.
"We could see more staff going off ill as a result of the wider reopening and this will mean extra staff costs for schools. And then there is the cost of delivering an education in school and a remote education as schools will need to ensure they have a plan A and plan B.”
The Department for Education’s guidance published today asks schools to prepare for all pupils to return in the autumn term.
It says: “While coronavirus (Covid-19) remains in the community, this means making judgments at a school level about how to balance and minimise any risks from coronavirus (Covid-19) with providing a full educational experience for children and young people.
"Schools should use their existing resources to make arrangements to welcome all children back. There are no plans at present to reimburse additional costs incurred as part of that process.”
The department has previously announced a £1 billion Covid catch-up fund to support pupils returning following the lockdown but has faced questions about whether this is entirely new money.
It includes a universal catch-up premium for schools of £650 million to make up for lost teaching time and a new £350 million national tutoring programme for disadvantaged pupils.
However, this fund is not aimed at meeting the practical costs of reopening which schools are set to face for September.
The DfE has been approached for a comment.