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School Finances: Covid-19

Volume 679: debated on Monday 7 September 2020

What recent discussions he has had with school leaders on providing financial support for costs incurred during the covid-19 outbreak. (905497)

Ministers and officials have been in regular contact with representatives of schools and academy trusts on all aspects of the Government’s covid response, including financial issues. Schools have been able to claim funds to meet certain additional costs and we are providing £1 billion in catch-up funding.

Schools in Newcastle went back this week and teachers have spent the summer working incredibly hard to make them covid secure while dealing with the exams debacle. Sacred Heart school in my constituency tells me that it has had to alter classrooms; it has bought visors, face masks and sanitisers; and it has had to increase cleaning rotas and produce online video guidance for every year group. This has cost tens of thousands of pounds, following years of budget cuts. The Minister cannot give them their summer back, but he can give them their money back. Will he do so?

I join the hon. Lady in paying tribute to the headteachers, teachers and other staff up and down the country who have worked tirelessly to get their schools ready to welcome back students in a safe way from this September. Schools have been able to claim for unavoidable costs incurred between March and July caused by the pandemic that cannot be met from the school’s existing resources—up to £75,000, depending on the size of the school. Core schools funding this year has risen by an additional £2.6 billion. That is part of a three-year settlement, which is the biggest funding boost in a decade. Although of course we keep these issues under review, our priority for additional funding has been to put the maximum possible into catch-up funding—some £1 billion—for schools to enable them to help young people to catch up on their lost education.

The Minister’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) is disappointing. It is extraordinary that back in July the Schools Minister told me that the Government did not consider it necessary for schools to make significant adaptations to their sites to enable them to welcome children back to school this autumn. That is not what headteachers are saying. They have told me that they are very concerned about the extra costs that schools are facing in relation to covid-19 for hand sanitisers, signage, barriers, cleaning and the support and teaching staff that they may need to cover covid-related absences. What steps will the Government take to ensure that all schools can be reimbursed for covid-related costs, and what would he say to those headteachers who are now openly saying that they are having to weigh up pupil safety against financial stability?

We have, as I said, announced a generous three-year settlement for schools. It is the best funding settlement in 10 years, with £14.4 billion over three years. Schools that are in financial difficulties can approach their local authority and the Education and Skills Funding Agency, which will provide support for schools that are experiencing difficulties, including the deployment of school resource management advisers. Schools and academies have £4 billion of cumulative reserves, and we expect those to be used first, but we keep this issue under review, and our regional teams are constantly monitoring whether schools are struggling to provide the hygiene and all the other measures that schools are putting in place right across the country.