Exclusive: Quarter of Covid fund is recycled DfE cash

Using repurposed money to address Covid crisis is 'completely inadequate to the scale of the challenge', warns union

Amy Gibbons

Covid catch-up funding for schools is partly recycled DfE cash, Tes can reveal

A quarter of the government's latest Covid catch-up fund has been recycled from existing education budgets, Tes can reveal.

In February, the government announced a new Covid recovery package, said to be worth £705 million. However £300 million of this cash had already been announced by the prime minister in January.

Tes repeatedly asked the Department for Education to specify whether the remaining £405 million was new money from the Treasury, or whether it had been taken from existing education budgets.


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Exclusive: DfE won't say where Covid catch-up cash came from

Report: £200m in catch-up cash taken out of education funds


Schools minister Nick Gibb later admitted that, while "over half" of the money was "new funding", the DfE had "contributed towards the cost" by repurposing some of its own resources.

But the department would not say exactly how much of the fund came from within the DfE, and where savings were being made.

DfE 'can't keep recycling cash for Covid catch-up'

Now Tes can now reveal that a quarter of the latest £705 million investment, worth £176 million, is made up of recycled DfE cash.

However, it remains unclear where the department has found the money.

In response to a freedom of information (FOI) request from Tes asking how much cash had been repurposed, and which education budgets had been used to plug the gap, the DfE would only say that it utilised "headroom where adjustments to forecasts enable us to release additional resources".

The news comes after a report from the National Audit Office said that a fifth of the government's original £1 billion Covid catch-up fund was taken from existing DfE budgets.

This means that, of the total £1.7 billion pledged for the education recovery effort to date, £376 million (22 per cent) has come from within the DfE itself, rather than the Treasury.

The department's FOI response stated that the latest recovery package "makes available a further £405 million" across summer 2021 and the academic year 2021-22.

"While over half of this is new funding, DfE plans to contribute £176 million towards the cost of this package," the department said.

"The contribution comes from the DfE budget overall, including headroom where adjustments to forecasts enable us to release additional resources."

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, told Tes that the government's use of "recycled" cash to address the "damage" to education was "completely inadequate to the scale of the challenge".

"The government cannot keep recycling existing education funding to meet the Covid crisis and its aftermath, she said.

"Sir Kevan Collins, the education recovery tsar, has said that it will take billions of pounds of funding for the nation's children and young people to recover from the damage done to their education by Covid.

"Government response so far, with recycled money, is completely inadequate to the scale of the challenge."

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "We welcome the investment in education recovery but it is important that this is new money rather than it being recycled from elsewhere within the Department for Education budget.

"It isn't clear exactly where the 'contribution' from the DfE has come from and we would like some reassurance that other education provision has not lost out.

"In any event, this was money already allocated for education and simply repackaging it doesn't really live up to government bluster about the scale of its investment in education recovery.

"What is clear is that the Treasury is not willing to part with anything like the funding that is needed for education recovery, and the DfE appears to be trying to fill in the gaps."

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Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @tweetsbyames

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