No new money for Covid recovery: Disappointment as Rishi Sunak's Budget snubs schools

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

There is bitter disappointment among school leaders and teachers after the "short-sighted" Budget included no new money to support longer term post-Covid recovery work during this Parliament.

While chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Budget announcement on Wednesday (March 3) focused on national recovery with a number of announcements for businesses, education did not feature.

School leaders had been hopeful that more money would be allocated by the chancellor to support the on-going recovery work in schools, not least in terms of academic and pastoral recovery and helping schools to shoulder the huge additional costs they have incurred in meeting government Covid safety regulations.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson himself has previously said that longer term support will be needed “over the length of this Parliament”. However, his colleague’s Budget did not reflect this.

Mr Sunak did not mention schools once during his Parliamentary statement, while Budget documentation published by the Treasury simply reiterated the existing £1bn catch-up package announced last year and the £702m unveiled earlier this year.

The £1bn saw £350m given to the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) and £650m entrusted directly to schools.

The £702m, meanwhile, included £200m for secondary schools to deliver face-to-face summer schools this year, £200m to expand tutoring programmes and deliver early language support, and £302m directly for state primary and secondary schools.

The Budget documentation states: “This funding will help ensure children have the opportunity to make up for lost learning and are able to progress and fulfil their potential.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, was disappointed.

He said: “It is disappointing that in a Budget focused on national recovery after the Covid pandemic so little mention has been made of the role of education. We believe that education is a vital part of the national recovery and that the Chancellor should have used this Budget to set out the government’s spending plan for catch-up support over the remainder of this Parliament.

“We also hoped to see a commitment to give more financial support to schools and colleges for the significant additional costs incurred because of the pandemic. Instead, education was scarcely mentioned despite the government’s insistence that it is a national priority. This Budget was a missed opportunity to back up warm words with a concrete spending plan.”

Echoing these sentiments, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: "It is short-sighted and disappointing that the government continues to ignore the funding pressures the education sector faces. The government has said schools are a 'national priority', yet this Budget has provided schools with no new resources to manage coronavirus. Once again this government has failed to pay attention to the educational professionals who see first-hand, every day, the detrimental impact under-funding of our education system has on the children and young people they teach or care for."

Before Wednesday’s announcement, Mr Barton had called on Mr Sunak to set out long term spending plans for catch-up support. He said: “Last week, the government announced a £700m recovery package, and the education secretary indicated that longer-term support over the length of this Parliament will be vital to ensure children make up for lost learning.

“These were welcome words but the Chancellor has to attach some figures to what this longer-term support will look like.

“We also want to see more action from the government to support schools and colleges with the extraordinary costs caused by the Covid pandemic. These include safety measures such as enhanced cleaning, signage, and hand sanitiser, as well as lost revenue from income generation, and teacher supply costs to cover absences. The funding so far made available by the government to help with these costs is nowhere near enough, and more support is urgently needed.”

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