UK:New funding to support schools and colleges during Covid pandemic

Schools and colleges facing the greatest combined staffing and funding pressures will be able to claim via a new short-term Covid workforce fund, as part of the government’s national priority of keeping education settings open.

The Department for Education has today (27 November) announced the fund which will be backdated to 01 November and cover the current half term, with detailed guidance due to be published shortly. It is designed for schools and colleges facing significant funding pressure, and will cover the costs of high levels of staff absences over a minimum threshold, to help ensure schools and colleges can remain open.

This new package of funding is in addition to the biggest increase to core school funding in a decade, including a £2.6 billion boost this year and a further £2.2 billion next year, as well as support given to schools in the summer to cover exceptional Covid-related costs.

Throughout the pandemic, schools and colleges have been rising to the challenges presented by coronavirus, maintaining high quality education and support for their pupils. The government will continue to review the pressures schools and colleges are facing into next term, and continue to explore how mass testing can play a greater role in keeping them open in the new year for all pupils to attend full time.

An updated contingency framework for all education settings has also been published today. This sets out how government would manage the exceptional circumstances in which further restrictions were required on education to help contain virus transmission within a community.

The framework is not a guide to operational management of education in local areas or individual education settings.

The government hopes never to have to implement the restrictions set out in the framework. Any implementation remains a decision for central government, working closely with local leaders, and would only come as a last resort to control extremely high prevalence of the virus if all other measures had been exhausted.

Keeping all education settings open remains a national priority, and today’s additional funding and clarity over the contingency framework will help settings remain open over the winter months.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

Keeping schools and colleges open is a national priority, which is why I am launching the Covid workforce fund, to support schools and colleges facing significant budget pressures and staff absences.

This new funding comes on top of our funding for schools facing exceptional costs during the summer months, the £1 billion Covid catch up fund to help all children make up for lost learning, and the core school funding that is seeing the biggest increase in a decade.

I know how hard school and college staff and leaders have worked over the past nine months, and I want to once again thank everyone working in education for going above and beyond while we continue to deal with the extra pressures caused by the pandemic.

The Department’s existing guidance published in July sets out a range of measures schools and colleges should continue to follow to reduce the risk of transmission, including physical distancing between staff and pupils and increased ventilation in classrooms where possible.

Measures also include the use of face coverings for adults and pupils in years 7 and above in local restriction tiers: high or very high when moving around the premises, outside of classrooms, in communal areas where social distancing cannot easily be maintained. Face coverings should also be worn on dedicated home to school transport by secondary school pupils.

Pupils in years 7 and above and adults in schools in local restriction tier: medium will have the discretion to require face coverings for pupils, staff and visitors in indoor areas outside the classroom where social distancing cannot easily be maintained. Primary school children will still not need to wear a face covering.

Evidence has highlighted the risks of not being in education on young people’s development and mental health. As the UK’s Chief Medical Officers have made clear, the wider risks to children being out of school is far greater than the risk of catching coronavirus at school.

Should any school or college need additional support above and beyond the range of funding and advice already made available, they should make contact with the Department’s regional school commissioner or ESFA territorial teams, who have worked to help hundreds of settings to remain open throughout the pandemic.

There remain no plans for schools to close early for Christmas, to extend the holidays or to implement rota systems.

Further information

Guidance on the claims process will be published shortly so schools and further education and sixth form colleges have confidence in the costs they can incur and be eligible to reclaim.

Schools and colleges will be able to reclaim costs incurred over the course of the current half term, if they meet the following conditions:

  • Financial: Schools will first need to use any existing financial reserves, as we would typically expect when facing unforeseen costs. They will be eligible for this additional funding once they have used these down to a level at 4% of the annual income. Colleges’ eligibility will be based on their cash position set out in the November financial return.
  • Absence rates: Mainstream schools and colleges must be experiencing a short-term teacher absence rate at or above 20%, and/or a lower long-term teacher absence rate at or above 10% – costs can only be claimed when incurred above this rate
  • Absence rates: Special schools and Alternative Provision schools must be experiencing a short-term teacher absence rate at or above 15%, and/or a lower long-term teacher absence rate at or above 10%, to be eligible – costs can only be claimed when incurred above this rate

Schools can and are already taking a number of steps to manage staff absences using their existing staff and resources. For all teacher absences claimed at or above these levels, schools will therefore need to certify that they have first tried appropriate staffing mitigations as set out in Guidance for full opening: schools, and that claims are necessary in keeping their school open.

Claims for support staff absences will be on an exceptional only basis, where necessary in keeping schools and colleges open. In special/AP schools, there will greater flexibility for claims for these staff.

Claims can include the cost of bringing in supply teachers but also other options such as paying additional hours for teachers who are part time (provided these teachers are happy to temporarily increase their hours, and full consideration is given to their workload and wellbeing).

Eligible schools and colleges will be able to claim for costs backdated to 01 November, provided that they meet the relevant criteria, and will be able to claim for costs until the Christmas holidays.

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