As you may already be aware, the government has published a number of new guidance documents today.
Financial Reimbursement Scheme
The government has taken an important first step in detailing how it will reimburse schools for the additional costs they face as a result of the current coronavirus crisis.
While everybody's priority right now is the safety and well-being of pupils and staff, we know that you also have to consider the financial impact that the additional support is likely to have.
The government has described schools as being on the front line in the fight against the coronavirus. Schools are already in the midst of a financial crisis and so the crucial work to support children and families at this time has to be properly funded. As with other front-line services, it has to be clear that schools will get all that they need to do the job, without compromise.
No school should be left out of pocket for stepping-up to respond to this crisis.
The guidance clarifies that the government will not ask schools to draw on any existing 'reserves' to meet the additional costs. However, it does state that the government does not expect schools to make a claim if they are anticipating that they will be able to add to their reserves in the 2020-21 financial year.
We will now be seeking clarity from the Department for Education (DfE) in terms of precisely what it means by this, and how it defines 'reserves'.
The guidance sets out some of the areas that the government will reimburse. However, this is far from being an exhaustive list. While the guidance states that schools may claim for "other, extraordinary costs to deliver appropriate support to their pupils", it remains unclear as to what would be considered appropriate expenditure under this provision. For example, it is unclear whether schools that have engaged term-time only staff to work over Easter can claim for additional staffing costs. We are seeking urgent clarification from the DfE on this matter.
We also need clarity in terms of free school meal provision. The guidance states that schools will be able to reclaim costs where they are "providing free meals to children for whom the national voucher scheme is inappropriate." We need a clearer definition of what the government means by the term 'inappropriate'. Up until now, the message has been that schools who have their own voucher schemes in place are free to continue with these.
As a matter of urgency, we will now be seeking clarity from the government regarding the detail of this scheme so that there are no unreasonable restrictions and the full range of additional costs are covered.
Safety measures in schools
The DfE has also updated its guidance on social distancing. This document now includes a much wider range of information relating to safety measures for schools. On initial review, the DfE appears to have responded to many of the points we have been raising on behalf of members, including the use of PPE, guidance on clothes washing, the wearing of jewellery and its plans for testing when it comes to school staff. You'll find the guidance in the Q&A section at the bottom of the document.
We will review in depth and update our FAQs to reflect this. Where more detailed guidance is required, we will seek it. One very obvious omission, and an ongoing frustration, is the lack of specific advice for those working in special schools. The guidance does say that this will be published 'shortly'. We are very aware of how frustrated special schools are with this lack of specific guidance, and we are continuing to emphasise the urgent need for it.
A number of you have been in contact with us today regarding the UCL's research about school closures that featured in some of the press headlines this morning. It appears that this research has been quite widely misrepresented in the media.
There will be many views within the medical and academic communities on the effectiveness of the government's response to the crisis, and sometimes these views will contradict and be in conflict with one another.
What remains important at this time is that the public, parents and professionals continue to follow official government advice to keep safe. The government has not indicated to us that it plans to make any immediate changes to its policy based on the study.
First published 07 April 2020