Local authorities need “significant” extra funding in order to meet the costs of reopening schools safely, MSPs have been told.
This includes the cost of adapting classrooms, hiring new staff, carrying out more cleaning and putting on more school transport.
Cosla, the umbrella body for local authorities, also said that, while it welcomed the flexibilities from the Scottish government in how education funding such as Scottish Attainment Challenge money could be spent, “much of this is already committed, often in staff costs and therefore cannot be easily deployed”.
This Friday, Cosla’s children and young people spokesman, Stephen McCabe, will give evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee on the reopening of schools and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on education.
In a submission to the committee ahead of the meeting, Cosla wrote: “The pace and scale of this work to adapt schools to the new model, coupled with the cuts to council budgets over the last decade, means that significant additional funding will be required to implement local phasing delivery plans…The adaption of classrooms and other spaces, hiring new staff (including training, registration and disclosure costs), implementing new processes in cleaning and school transport and continued support for free school meals in the new context are likely to mean that there are significant additional costs to local authorities.”
It added: “We welcome the flexibilities that have been confirmed by the Scottish government on the deployment of ringfenced education funding streams (such as the Scottish Attainment Challenge, Pupil Equity Fund and funding for Regional Improvement Collaboratives) but have noted that much of this is already committed, often in staff costs and therefore cannot be easily deployed.”
Education secretary John Swinney has previously described City of Edinburgh Council’s plans for pupils to return for just one day a week in August as not “strong enough”, and reiterated his position that most pupils should be spending half their time receiving face-to-face lessons in school and half their time learning at home.
However, in an interview with Tes Scotland last week, Mr McCabe – who is also the leader of Inverclyde Council – said there was “no way” schools that were at, or close to, capacity would be able to introduce the 50:50 model. He warned that some pupils would be in school just a third of the time.
He said that repurposing other buildings to increase capacity had a cost attached and affordability was “absolutely a factor” when it came to working out what blended learning was going to look like come August.
In a BBC Radio Scotland interview on Monday, Mr Swinney said councils had received £300 million of new money to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and that the suspension of the delivery of 1,140 free nursery and childcare hours – which had been due to start in August – had given councils financial flexibility of £200 million. He added the Scottish government was happy to look at specific proposals for additional resources.