64.1 Philip Haslett, the Head of Education Strategy and Development gave a presentation on the funding and support available to the school system during the Covid-19 pandemic. (For Information: A copy of the presentation slides covering each agenda item has been uploaded to the Council’s website.)
64.2 He reported that following submissions to the DfE in July 2020, the total amount of Covid-19 exceptional costs successfully claimed by maintained schools in Gloucestershire, against the standard three criteria, was £441,059. A further £228,689 had since been received and paid to 63 maintained schools - those schools had claimed for other costs not within the three standard categories, or had submitted a claim above their limit for the total of the three standard categories, which had since been approved for payment. The Forum noted that the ESFA had confirmed that it was making final assessments of the claims for other costs, for which it received a large number of claims in a wide range of categories. The ESFA was expected to inform schools of the outcome of this process by the end of November 2020.
64.3 The Forum noted that the ESFA and the DfE had made it clear that they did not expect there to be a further round of funding to support exceptional costs. This decision had caused concern for school leaders, local authorities, unions and education funding groups. The local authority was aiming to build a complete picture of the on-going exceptional costs to Gloucestershire’s schools, and the criticalness of schools continuing to track Covid-19 related costs was emphasised. Forum members were urged to convey this message to their colleagues and encourage the reporting of the exceptional costs to the local authority’s finance team.
64.4 The Head of Education Strategy and Development explained that the evidence from schools would help to create a clear picture of the on-going impact and would be used to support the F40 campaign for a further round of exceptional cost funding, moving into term 2. It was reported that to date, the finance team had received 50 responses from schools. The responses showed that those 50 schools had incurred collectively £385,119 of additional costs as a result of Covid-19, this was solely in relation to term 1. Pressures were expected to rise during term 2 as the tightened national restrictions commenced The Forum noted the latest letter from the F40 to the DfE which provided a detailed account of the Covid-19 related funding pressures in schools. It was reported that the F40 was due to meet with the DfE funding team to discuss the issues in detail.
64.5 The Head of Education Strategy and Development reported that the priority areas for local Covid-19 funding and support were: Transition Chat - this project focused on supporting Year 11 students who were at risk of becoming NEET (not in education, employment or training); support to children and young people who, on return to school were struggling to access education and were at risk of exclusion; school staff mental health and well-being; school improvement performance; and schools at risk of deficit.
64.6 Members of the Forum provided feedback about the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on schools. Key points were made about the significant exceptional costs incurred from having to upgrade the IT infrastructure in schools, to successfully provide a remote/blending learning system. The Head of Education Strategy and Development acknowledged that some schools were having to invest quite significantly in their IT infrastructure, due to years of financial pressures and competing priorities, which had resulted in IT systems not fit for purpose for today’s requirements around remote learning. He agreed that the local authority would advise schools to capture information on the additional costs incurred due to IT as a separate item.
64.7 Concerns were also expressed over the significant costs involved with meeting the enhanced cleaning requirements in schools. It was reported that some schools did not have the funds or reserves to procure additional cleaning services etc, and were instead having to use existing support staff to undertake Covid-19 related activities – thus taking staff away from providing the usual level of learning support to pupils. Members emphasised that the situation was having a significant detrimental impact on the well-being of staff. A member suggested that schools should be asked to record the percentage of time staff members were having to spend on Covid-19 related activities as opposed to teaching and learning duties, as the associated costs could be quite significant. The Head of Education Strategy and Development advised however, that whilst this was a valid concern, in terms of engaging with decision makers on making the case for additional funding, it would be difficult to provide evidence on issues that could be managed within schools, as opposed to providing evidence on material costs such as enhanced cleaning and IT.
64.8 The loss of income to larger schools which in some cases was a substantial amount, particularly for schools that had service level agreements with sporting organisations, was also acknowledged as a concerning impact of Covid-19.
64.9 Sarah Murphy, Trade Union representative, reported that as part of her casework she was representing staff who were facing redundancy or restructuring within their schools. She explained that this type of casework usually increased during the spring/summer time, so was unusually early this year. The Trade Union representative reported that she was also experiencing an increase in complex and serious casework relating to suspensions and capability procedures; and also an increase in emails from staff in schools regarding mental health concerns, particularly following the recent government announcements on the tightened restrictions. She explained that the most common concern being raised by staff was about providing blended learning and the use of IT in classrooms. She emphasised that the unusual conditions were having a massive impact on the workloads of teachers and support staff.
64.10 A member raised the point that as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, there could be, over time, a rise in the staff turnover within school system, which may add additional pressure on school budgets.
64.11 A member raised the point that there were some staff members, predominately in special schools but potentially in mainstream schools also, who were parents of children who had profound and multiple learning difficulties, and consequently were currently shielding. It was often the case, that due to the medical elements of the care required, parents were unable to find appropriate childcare. As a result, those staff members had not been able to return to work. This was resulting in additional cost pressures to schools of using supply staff to cover staff absences.
64.12 Members of the Forum were strongly of the view that schools should not be penalised financially because of the additional Covid related costs of staying safely open during the pandemic. A further round of exceptional cost funding was therefore viewed as critical, and members acknowledged that the F40 group was widely recognised as an important component in conveying that message to the DfE. It was also acknowledged that if no further funding was received from the government then the Forum would be consulted on how schools exceptional costs could be managed locally.
64.13 The Forum noted that a report on the maintained schools’ budgets would be received at the January 2021 Forum meeting. It was expected that due to the impact of Covid-19 the school system in January would be forecasting significantly more deficit than it would have done otherwise. Forum members were in support of the Local Authority taking a prudent approach when reviewing the budgets of maintained schools that were in deficit or at risk of going into deficit, to ask schools to separate out the costs incurred due to Covid-19, and those that related to the normal running costs. Further review of the budgets would then pause until there was a clearer national picture of how those exceptional Covid-19 costs would be addressed.