A petition calling for the government to reimburse schools for the costs they have incurred due to Covid-19 has passed 14,000 signatures in just one week, meaning the government must formally respond.
This comes as Ofsted’s Autumn term reports warn that leaders across education and social care are concerned over budgets.
Schools have faced unanticipated additional costs this year due to Covid-19. They have had to find extra money from already tight budgets for all the measures the government has required them to take to keep children safe, including additional cleaning costs, extra hand washing stations and hand sanitiser, ventilation systems in classrooms, the provision of PPE including face coverings, and the costs associated with setting up remote learning for pupils at home.
These measures are all mandatory, but the government has not given schools any additional funding or reimbursement to cover the costs incurred since September.
Schools are also facing huge supply staff costs as they are forced to hire temporary staff to provide cover to keep schools open as teachers get sick, have to wait for covid test results, or self-isolate due to extreme vulnerability.
A recent NAHT survey found that, in just the first few weeks of term, schools spent an average £8,017 implementing the safety measures required by government guidance.
Jim Nicholson, head teacher of Mellor Primary School in Stockport, who started the petition, 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 to help schools with the financial impact of lockdown the way they have with other businesses.
“Schools’ budgets were set before the outbreak Covid-19 and were already as tight as they could possibly be. The costs we’re now facing are totally unanticipated – we couldn’t have imagined these measures would suddenly be necessary.
“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 government to “fully fund schools for Covid-19 costs and provide relief for loss of income.” It also points out that, in a double whammy of financial hardship, schools have simultaneously lost income this year as they have been unable to let premises as they usually would.
The same NAHT survey found that schools lost an average £9,755 in income in the first few weeks of term, on top of an average £15,915 over the summer.
Mr Nicholson continued: “Schools have lost income this year which in many cases we rely on for sustainability. Wrap around care and school lettings are such facilities that have been affected. 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, in the same time scale for the first half term compared to autumn 2019-20. We have also lost approximately £29,000 in income streams. These costs and losses are unsustainable without additional financial support.”
James Bowen, director of school leaders’ union 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.”
The petition remains open and continues to gain signatures at a rapid rate.
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First published 09 November 2020