Reimburse schools' Covid costs! Government obliged to respond after thousands sign petition

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Strong support: On Wednesday morning (November 11), the Covid school funding petition had garnered more than 17,300 signatures – a number which was increasing quickly
This issue really needs to be highlighted to the general public

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More than 17,500 people have signed a petition calling for the government to reimburse schools for the costs of Covid-19 safety measures.

Schools have faced thousands of pounds in unexpected expenditure this year to meet mandatory safety measures such as additional cleaning, hand-washing stations, gel, ventilation systems, PPE and for remote learning.

However, so far this term government ministers have refused to foot the bill, leaving many schools in a precarious position financially. A Department for Education (DfE) grant scheme that offered support to some schools last year has been discontinued.

On top of the safety costs, schools are also being hit by a huge increase in supply costs due to increasing numbers of staff self-isolating or waiting for test results.

The issue of budgets has also been flagged up by Ofsted in its latest autumn term report, published this week. It warns that budgets in some schools have been “significantly affected due to the cost of PPE, sanitising materials and actions taken to make the school environment safe and accessible”.

Analysis by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) in September found that secondary schools are facing bills of up to £39,000 a term, spending as much as £75 per-pupil on safety measures.

A significant contributor, ASCL said, is enhanced cleaning, which at an additional 22.5 hours a week comes to £13,000 a year. Other costs included digital textbooks and additional teaching assistant time.

Analysis by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), meanwhile – involving mainly primary schools – found that the average spend so far this term is more than £8,000. On top of this, primary schools have lost out in almost £10,000 of income because Covid restrictions have led to a fall in demand for school facilities.

The petition on the government’s e-petitions website has been created by Jim Nicholson, headteacher of Mellor Primary School in Stockport. The government is now obliged to respond to the petition after it passed 10,000 signatures. If it reaches 100,000 signatures it could be debated by MPs in Parliament. As we went to press, the petition was standing at more than 7,500 signatures.

Mr Mellor said: “None of these costs are optional for schools. They have all been required of us by government – and indeed, are necessary to keep children and staff safe during this pandemic. We can’t understand why the government hasn’t stepped in.

“Schools’ budgets were set before the outbreak of Covid-19 and were already as tight as they could possibly be. The worry is that every pound we are now having to divert to pay for safety measures and the costs of just keeping schools open is a pound we can’t spend on pupils’ education and wellbeing. Just as children really need every possible boost to make up for the disruption they’ve faced this year, they are being short-changed by the government.”

The petition calls for the government to:

  • Agree to reimburse schools' exceptional costs associated with Covid-19 measures.
  • Reimburse schools' lost income from Covid-19 (e.g. rental/lettings).
  • Guarantee reimbursements will be paid directly to schools for financial years 2020/21, 2021/22, as required.

Speaking with SecEd in September, one secondary school headteacher from the North of England – who asked to remain anonymous – said that his school has spent £10,000 on setting up bins, hand sanitiser units, changes to school buildings, and equipment to convert classrooms.

He added: “The projection for hand sanitiser gel alone for the year is more than £10,000. We will spend thousands on replacing lost face masks alone. We had seen an increase in funding, but it feels like it’s all going on teacher pay rises and Covid – so none of it will be impacting the quality of learning.”

And writing in Headteacher Update last month, Anthony David, executive headteacher of two primaries in north London, said schools, especially smaller ones, were facing a financial cliff edge.

He cites the costs of Covid safety measures, but also of updating ageing ICT equipment in order to provide remote education, and the increasing costs of supply cover for staff who are forced to self-isolate.

He wrote: “There are extraordinary demands being placed on schools at the moment and teachers and school leaders are certainly stepping up to the plate. But from a financial point of view we are walking on a cliff-edge. And without further support from the government, we may see an unexpected number of schools go into deficit this year, especially smaller schools.”

Mr Nicholson added: “In my own small school, our staffing cost increase has been several thousand pounds already (approximately £9,000) and our costs for soap, hand sanitiser and paper towels has increased six-fold. We have also lost approximately £29,000 in income streams. These costs and losses are unsustainable without additional financial support.”

James Bowen, director of the NAHT, said: “School budgets were already incredibly tight. The government’s refusal to recognise the financial difficulties schools are now facing due to Covid-19 means that not only is money being taken away from children’s education and wellbeing, it could push some schools over the edge financially.”

ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton added: “The government isn’t doing enough to support schools and colleges to stay open because of its continued refusal to reimburse them for the huge costs involved in managing Covid safety measures and hiring supply cover when staff have to self-isolate. These costs are completely unsustainable and the government must act.”

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The Covid 19 funding problems for school is daunting. The government must step in and provide financial help, not least as it is the most vulnerable pupils who suffer the most.
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This issue really needs to be highlighted to the general public
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