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Covid-19 Contingency Framework and Workforce Fund

Volume 685: debated on Monday 30 November 2020

The Prime Minister has announced the exit from national restrictions on 2 December and set out our return to a regional tiered approach. The strengthened tiering approach takes into account advice from Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and should prevent the need to introduce stricter national measures and allow for education and childcare settings to remain open across all tiers.

On 13 November, SAGE published papers relating to the latest evidence of incidence and transmission of coronavirus—covid-19—in schools. The science is clear that children and young people are typically at very low risk from coronavirus—covid-19. The disease is much less severe for children, even if they do catch coronavirus—covid-19.

The SAGE papers provide clear evidence regarding the risks from pupils not being in school. The documents are clear that school closures put educational outcomes at risk, especially for disadvantaged students. Transmission to and from children and young people can occur in household, community and educational settings. SAGE also noted that that there are significant educational, developmental and mental health harms from schools being closed, particularly for younger children, and vulnerable children where learning at home is likely to reinforce inequalities—with high confidence. This impact can affect both current levels of education and children’s future ability to learn.

Therefore, this issue requires balancing of risk and harms, including the health risks to children and staff from covid-19; impacts on community transmission; and the direct risks to children’s mental health, wellbeing, development and attainment from missing education. The chief medical officer has reinforced recently that the balance of risks is firmly in favour of keeping schools open. For the vast majority of children, the benefits of attending school far outweigh the low risk from coronavirus—covid-19— and schools can take action to reduce risks further through the system of controls set out in our guidance.

Covid-19 contingency framework for education and childcare settings

The education and childcare settings tiers and the use of rotas in schools was removed from the contain framework and has been replaced by a stronger contingency plan which continues to prioritise vulnerable children and young people, children of critical workers, students in exam cohorts and children in childcare or primary schools.

This framework is not directly linked to policy on local tiers of restriction. This framework is designed to set out how restrictions should be implemented in education and childcare settings as a containment measure for the rare circumstances in which they are required to address community transmission in any area.

This guidance for local authorities, childcare and education settings—excluding higher education—was published on 27 November and covers contingency plans for: early years and primary schools; secondary schools; further education colleges, alternative provision and special schools.

As part of their contingency planning, settings should consider how they would operate in the event that these restrictions become necessary in their local area, including how they would ensure that every child, pupil or student receives the quantity and quality of education and care to which they are normally entitled.

Any restrictions on education should only be as a last resort and should only be instituted on the recommendation of central Government. The Government will do everything possible to avoid triggering those contingency measures at any stage.

An educational or childcare setting should not move to implement restrictive measures of the kind set out in the contingency framework without the explicit agreement of the DfE. DfE will work with other Government Departments, the chief medical officer, the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC), Public Health England (PHE) and relevant local authorities to ensure the decision is informed by the available evidence and viewed in conjunction with the wider local interventions in place and under consideration.

Covid-19 workforce fund

Keeping education settings open remains a national priority. We recognise that schools and colleges have faced significant challenges during the pandemic as they have sought to maintain high-quality education for their pupils and students. To support schools and colleges with these ongoing challenges, we have announced a new covid-19 workforce fund targeted at those with the highest staff absences that are also facing significant financial pressures. This will help schools and colleges to meet the cost of absences experienced during the period from the beginning of November until the end of this term, where they meet specific criteria relating to their absence rates and finances:

Mainstream schools and colleges must be experiencing a short-term teacher absence rate at or above 20%, and or a lower long-term—15 days or more—teacher absence rate at or above 10%—costs can only be claimed for the costs incurred above this rate.

Special schools and alternative provision schools must be experiencing a short-term teacher absence rate at or above 15%, and or a lower long-term—15 days or more— teacher absence rate at or above 10%, to be eligible—costs can only be claimed for the costs incurred above this rate.

Claims for support staff absences will be on an exceptional only basis, where necessary in keeping schools and colleges open. In special schools and alternative provision, there will be greater flexibility for claims for these staff.

Before claiming support, schools will first need to use any existing financial reserves, as we would typically expect when facing unforeseen costs. They will be eligible for this additional funding once they have used these reserves down to a level at 4% of their annual income. For colleges, eligibility will be based on their cash position set out in the November financial return.

This fund comes on top of our funding for schools facing exceptional costs during the summer months, the £1 billion covid-19 catch up fund to help all children make up for lost education, as well as the core funding that all schools and colleges continue to receive, and the core school funding that is seeing the biggest increase in a decade. The Department for Education will publish detailed guidance, including conditions for eligibility, shortly.

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