Covid costs school closure risk: DfE calls in Treasury

Top official reveals that DfE is in talks with the Treasury to ensure that schools can stay open despite coronavirus budget pressures

Catherine Lough

money

The Department for Education has suggested that there is a risk that funding problems during the pandemic could lead to schools closing.

The department's top official revealed to MPs this morning that it was in talks with the Treasury to ensure that that did not happen and that schools could stay open despite extra Covid costs.


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Susan Acland-Hood, the DfE's acting permanent secretary made her comments after an MP warned about the extra pressure on school budgets created by the coronavirus.

Richard Holden, Conservative MP for North West Durham and a former special adviser to education secretary Gavin Williamson, told her: "My local secondary school has raised the extra cost of dealing with Covid for the schools.

"Firstly supply teachers – they look like they’ll be 50 per cent up on their budget compared to where projections were. Secondly the extra costs of physical things in school so just the hand sanitiser, that sort of thing and physical blocks for pupils to ensure social distancing, and thirdly their cleaning costs.

"They reckon this is going to add an extra roughly £100 per pupil per head this year. What measures are you putting in place to fill that hole?"

Ms Acland-Hood, replied: "We are talking to the Treasury to make sure that we don’t ever get into a position where funding is a reason schools have to close during the pandemic, and we hope to be able to say a bit more about that soon."

In November, thousands signed a petition demanding that the government reimburse schools for Covid-related costs.

The petition, started by a primary headteacher in Stockport, described how his school had increased staffing costs of approximately £9,000, while costs for soap, hand sanitiser and paper towels had increased sixfold during the first half of the autumn term.

Mr Holden also used the Commons Public Accounts Committee hearing to challenge the DfE official over schools being forced to use their reserves to cover pandemic-related costs.

"Well-managed schools are basically being told to dip into their reserves now to pay for Covid and that’s money they were setting aside for important projects," he said, asking whether these schools would be reimbursed.

He said schools that felt they had been financially prudent now felt "punished" in having to use reserves to cover costs. 

"Do you understand though that some of the schools are well managed and are well run with good sensible financial strategies and feel that they’re being punished because they’re having to dip into their reserves whereas others are being basically bailed out?" he said.

Ms Acland-Hood said: "I completely understand that feeling and I feel enormous sympathy for heads who have managed schools well who are feeling that having built up significant reserves and often having good plans in place for what they want to do with that, having to spend some of that money on dealing with the pandemic.

"But I think its very hard for us to argue to the Treasury the contrary case, which is that schools that have very significant reserves should be given additional money in a context where absolutely every part of the economy and the public services is suffering from stretch."

 

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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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