Most deprived schools ‘more likely to struggle to cover extra Covid-19 costs’

The most deprived schools are under the greatest financial pressure amid the pandemic, an analysis suggests.

Around a quarter of schools may not be able to cover the increased costs of Covid-19 from the funding they receive this year, according to the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) report.

Approximately 1,500 schools in England are at particular risk of “great financial hardship” due to Covid-19 – and these schools are disproportionately likely to be deprived, the paper says.

This year’s per pupil funding increases will not cover these schools’ normal costs – such as teacher salaries and other inflationary pressures – as well as additional Covid-19 costs, it says.

Researchers have called for extra support to help deprived schools with the additional financial burden of the pandemic.

The report suggests that the Government’s catch-up support is unlikely to reach all the pupils who need it as there are not enough places on the National Tutoring Programme for all disadvantaged pupils.

Pupils in the most deprived schools, who are in the greatest need of catch-up support, are at the greatest risk of losing out, according to the NFER’s analysis.

Report author Jenna Julius, an economist at NFER, said: “The pandemic has created significant pressures on schools’ budgets. Schools are facing substantial extra costs to keep their staff and pupils safe, and the existing funding provision is insufficient to cover these extra costs in some schools.

“Emergency support is needed now to help meet the costs of Covid-19, particularly for deprived schools without the financial resilience to meet the costs of the pandemic from their existing budgets.”

It comes after the Department for Education (DfE) unveiled a short-term Covid workforce fund last week to help schools and colleges cover the costs of staff absence due to the pandemic.

The fund, which will be backdated to November 1 and cover the current half-term, will only be available to schools and colleges facing high levels of staff absences, or significant budget pressures.

But the NFER said the scheme’s current eligibility criteria suggest that it will not go far towards easing the current resource pressures on schools.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “The fact that deprived schools are under the greatest financial pressure as a result of the Covid pandemic is a damning indictment of the Government’s failure to provide the support that is so desperately needed.

“Its recent announcement of a Covid workforce fund to support the cost of covering teacher absence is very limited and comes with far too many caveats.”

He warned: “The inevitable outcome will be that schools and colleges will have to make further cuts which will affect provision for their pupils unless the Government gets a grip of this situation.”

On the Covid workforce fund Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, added: “There is still no additional money to help schools pay for essentials like sanitiser, masks, soap and other cleaning products.

“We would like to see the Government go further, and our continuing discussions with them will focus on this in the coming weeks.”

A DfE spokeswoman said: “Keeping schools and colleges open is a national priority, which is why we launched the Covid workforce fund, to support schools and colleges facing significant budget pressures and staff absences.

“This new funding comes on top of our funding for schools facing exceptional costs during the summer months, the £1 billion Covid catch up fund to help all children make up for lost learning, and the core school funding that is seeing the biggest increase in a decade.”

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