Coronavirus: Heads seek 'urgent clarification' over staffing and free meals costs

A headteachers’ union is demanding “urgent clarification” from government over whether schools can claim extra funding to pay term-time only staff to work over the Easter holidays.

Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said guidance issued by the Department for Education on exceptional costs associated with coronavirus was “unclear” about what schools could actually claim for.

The union has also asked the government to confirm whether or not schools can claim for the costs of continuing to provide their own free school meal vouchers, following the launch of a national programme.

Schools have been asked to remain open over the Easter break, to continue to provide childcare for vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers. They have been told they will be allowed to claim back “increased premises related costs” accrued as a result of Easter opening.

However, the guidance issued yesterday does not say whether schools will be able to claim for additional staff costs, particularly those incurred in asking staff employed on term-time only contracts to work during the holidays.

“While the guidance states that schools may claim for ‘other, extraordinary costs to deliver appropriate support to their pupils’, it remains unclear as to what would be considered appropriate expenditure under this provision,” said Whiteman in an update to NAHT members.

“For example, it is unclear whether schools that have engaged term-time only staff to work over Easter can claim for additional staffing costs. We are seeking urgent clarification from the DfE on this matter.”

The NAHT is also seeking clarity over whether schools will continue to be funded for their own free school meal voucher schemes.

Many schools, councils and academy trusts started producing their own vouchers to feed disadvantaged pupils stuck at home during school closures before the government launched its national voucher scheme.

Leaders had been under the impression that they could continue with their existing approach.

Guidance issued yesterday states that schools will be able to claim back costs “arising before the introduction of the national voucher scheme”, and costs of providing meals for children “for whom the national voucher scheme is inappropriate (for example, because there are no participating supermarkets locally or schools are providing meals directly)”.

Whiteman said schools needed a “clearer definition of what the government means by the term ‘inappropriate’.

“Up until now, the message has been that schools who have their own voucher schemes in place are free to continue with these.”

He added: “As a matter of urgency, we will now be seeking clarity from the government regarding the detail of this scheme so that there are no unreasonable restrictions and the full range of additional costs are covered.”

The DfE has been approached for comment.