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Educational Settings: January 2021 Return and Funding

Volume 686: debated on Thursday 17 December 2020

As a Government we have made it a national priority that education and childcare settings should continue to operate as normally as possible during the coronavirus (covid-19) outbreak, and we have continued to work with the profession to continue full-time face-to-face education.

Since the start of the academic year, the continuing efforts of leaders, teachers and staff across education and childcare has ensured that settings remain as safe and covid-19 secure as possible. That remains the case but the return at the start of January 2021 will take place in exceptional circumstances, when winter risks are acute and at a critical point in national efforts to control the virus.

We announced on 15 December 2020 that we will be deploying the latest rapid-result coronavirus tests to schools and colleges from January to enable weekly screening for the workforce and daily testing for the workforce and students who are a close contact of a positive case. This will help us to find those with the virus and isolate them quickly. It will also help us reduce the need for self-isolation of close contacts of positive cases, keeping staff and students in education and childcare. We will continue to work closely with schools, colleges, directors of public health and directors of children’s services to implement this plan.

Today we can announce that we will be offering all secondary schools (including all-through schools and middle deemed secondary schools), colleges, special schools and alternative provision settings the help, support and supplies to test as many secondary-age and FE students as possible as they resume education in January. We have prioritised these settings because they have seen more disruption so far, associated with older children and young adults having had higher rates of covid-19. This will help identify asymptomatic cases—which make up a third of all cases—limiting the spread of the virus, and we strongly encourage all schools and colleges to participate. In middle deemed secondary schools, testing would be for years 7 and 8 pupils.

Already, the implementation of safety measures and the system of controls in place in education settings creates an inherently safer environment for children, young people and staff, in which PHE and DHSC have confirmed the risk of transmission of infection is substantially reduced. Given the exceptional public health circumstances, when settings return in week commencing 4 January, testing will help to identify asymptomatic cases more quickly. This will avoid individuals carrying the infection unknowingly and potentially spreading it in the local community.

For the week commencing 4 January, secondary schools (including middle/all-through schools, special schools and alternative provision) and colleges will only offer on-site provision for vulnerable children and young people, children of critical workers, those studying for or taking exams this academic year. They will provide remote education to all other pupils, before a full return to school and college from 11 January. The groups attending school and college from 4 January will be prioritised for testing, alongside the school workforce. Schools that wish to can use an extra inset day on 4 January to prepare to deliver the testing. Early years settings and primary schools will be open as normal in week commencing 4 January

Testing will not be mandated and all students will be expected to attend school or college from 11 January regardless of whether a test has been undertaken (unless they are self-isolating because they have tested positive for coronavirus, have symptoms or have been advised to isolate by NHS Test and Trace).

To deliver testing at this speed and scale, armed forces personnel will support directly through planning with schools and colleges, in every local area. The remaining testing workforce will be made up of volunteers and agency staff and reasonable costs will be reimbursed. Schools and colleges that opt in will need to provide a few members of staff to support the testing programme.

Testing, along with existing infection prevention and control measures such as ventilation, increased hygiene, and wearing of face coverings in communal areas of secondary schools where appropriate, can limit the number of children and young people missing out on face-to-face education because they have to isolate.

We realise that this year has been incredibly difficult for staff, students, pupils and parents. I want to thank all involved in education and childcare for their tireless dedication. The hard work of our education workforce has already substantially reduced the risk of transmission of covid-19 within education settings, and we will now use this new testing approach to be sure to reduce the risk of local community transmission in this age group and ensure more young people are able to remain in education, benefiting from the national priority of keeping education open for all.

This policy will be kept under review in light of scientific evidence, and the Government will provide further advice if necessary.

Today I am also glad to confirm school and early years revenue funding allocations for 2021-22. This announcement covers the dedicated schools grant (DSG), the pupil premium and the free school meal supplementary grant. The DSG distributes the second year of the multi-billion school funding settlement that I announced to Parliament on 3 September 2019. Compared to 2019-20, core school funding is increasing by £2.6 billion for 2020-21, £4.8 billion for 2021-22, and £7.1 billion for 2022-23. In addition, we continue to fund increases in teacher pay and pension costs from 2018 and 2019, worth £2 billion in 2021-22.

The distribution of the DSG to local authorities is set out in four funding blocks for each authority: a schools block, a high-needs block, an early years block, and a central school services block. In July 2020, the Minister of State for School Standards informed Parliament of the publication of primary and secondary units of funding for the schools’ block, and the provisional allocations for the high-needs block and central school services block. In the DSG, these have now been updated with the latest pupil numbers to show how much each local authority will receive in 2021- 22.

In the schools’ block, funding in 2021-22 is increasing by over 3% per pupil, or 3.5% overall, compared to this year. In the high-needs block, funding to support children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is increasing by 10%.

I am also confirming the final hourly funding rates for the free early education entitlements in 2021-22. As a result of the £44 million investment in 2021-22 announced by the Chancellor in the spending review, we will increase the hourly funding rates for all local authorities for the two-year-old entitlement by 8p an hour. Funding for the three and four-year-old entitlement will increase by 6p an hour in the vast majority of areas. We are increasing the minimum funding floor for the three and four-year-old offer to £4.44 per hour.

Twelve local authorities have had their 2020-21 hourly funding rates for three and four year-olds protected by the “loss cap” in the early years national funding formula, to ensure that they do not face large drops to their funding rate. Funding for 10 of these local authorities will be maintained in 2021-22 and two will see an increase to their hourly rate as they come off the loss cap in 2021-22.

I can also confirm that supplementary funding for maintained nursery schools will continue for the whole of the 2021 -22 financial year, and the Government’s commitment to the long-term funding of maintained nursery schools is unchanged.

Today, I am also announcing that the pupil premium will continue in 2021-22 with the same per pupil funding rates as in 2020-21. We will use the October 2020 census to calculate individual school-level allocations. This will ensure that this targeted investment can continue to support the most disadvantaged children in our schools.

Finally, I am also confirming that the free school meal supplementary grant, which was due to end in 2019-20, will be extended for one additional year, to 2020-21.