Schools could face '£240m' Covid reopening bill

Heads urge DfE to rethink decision not to cover extra Covid costs from September, as 14,000 schools claim back costs

Coronavirus: Schools could face a bill of £240m for putting in place safety measures for the new term, heads have warned

More than 14,000 schools have submitted claims to the Department for Education for “exceptional costs” related to cleaning and safety between March and July, new government figures show.

And headteachers say this shows how “desperately needed” the funding is, and are urging the government to rethink its decision not to cover the same costs during the autumn term.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) criticised the DfE when, in its guidance on schools reopening in September, it stated that there would be no extra cash to cover costs of things like hand sanitiser facilities, more frequent cleaning of classrooms and extra signage around schools from September.

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A survey of 1,800 schools by the NAHT school leaders’ union has since revealed that the schools will be paying, on average, £9,990 in extra costs to open in September.

Coronavirus: The cost of reopening schools safely

And the union says that if every school in the system had incurred similar levels of expense, that would equate to £240 million across England.

Julia Harnden, funding specialist at ASCL, said: “We appeal to ministers to change their mind. These costs will be significant. There will also be the cost of providing cover for staff who have to self-isolate in line with public health advice.

"School budgets are under enormous pressure and cannot stand the strain of extra unbudgeted costs. The fact that more than 14,000 schools have submitted a claim for exceptional costs associated with Covid between March and July shows how desperately needed this funding has proved to be.”

DfE guidance in April said schools could claim up to £75,000 per school, depending on its size to cover extra costs to July. And schools minister Nick Gibb said in the Commons on Monday this week that a total of 14,075 schools had submitted before the window closed on 21 July.

However, the general secretary of the NAHT, Paul Whiteman, said: "The government’s criteria for what schools are allowed to claim for are very narrow and do not actually cover the full costs of making schools ‘Covid-secure’. This means that in a large number of cases schools cannot claim for what they have actually spent."

Mr Gibb also told the House of Commons that the DfE didn't believe schools would need to make significant adaptations to their sites to enable them to welcome all children back in the autumn.

In response to a question from Labour's shadow schools minister, Margaret Greenwood, on providing financial support for Covid expenses from September, he said: "Following a risk assessment, some schools may determine that small adaptations to their site are required. This will be at the discretion of individual schools, based on their particular circumstances. As such, schools should use their existing resources when making arrangements to welcome all children back."   

In May, Tes revealed that a litre of hand sanitiser was being offered to schools for £48 and loo rolls at £2 each. 

The DfE has declined to say how much, in total, schools are claiming for extra costs incurred between March and July. More than 24,000 schools, including primary, secondary, special schools and pupil-referral units were eligible to claim the money.

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Dave Speck

Dave Speck is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @Specktator100

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