Deprived schools will struggle to meet Covid costs, finds NFER report

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One in four schools may not be able to meet Covid-related costs despite increased funding from government, and deprived schools will be among the hardest-hit, a new report has found.

Analysis by the National Foundation for Educational Research found that existing inflationary pressures, such as teacher pay rises, mean the £2.6 billion increase in school funding this year will leave little left over for some schools to pay for increased costs.

Ministers have said they expect schools to meet the costs from their existing budgets, and have repeatedly pointed to plans to increase school spending by £7.1 billion by 2022-23.

Despite these rises, NFER identified 1,500 schools that were “particularly at risk of great financial hardship”, as they entered the pandemic with either a deficit or small surplus.

The research also found that more deprived schools, which face the biggest challenge in supporting pupils to catch up, stand to see smaller increases under the government’s national funding formula (NFF) because they have historically received higher levels.

Schools have lost hundreds of millions of pounds from a combination of lost income and increased costs since the pandemic began. Although the government launched an exceptional costs fund, its scope was limited and it only covered the tail end of the last academic year.

Ministers also announced a £650 million Covid catch-up grant for schools to help pupils make up for lost learning, but the NFER warned resource pressures “may mean that some schools divert this catch-up premium to other purposes”.

The government has also announced a Covid workforce fund to help schools cover teacher vacancies. But NFER found the fund was “unlikely to ease pressures” on school finances because of its limited eligibility criteria and coverage.

The organisation called for emergency support for the hardest-up schools, and demanded a “more progressive approach” to the NFF during this “unprecedented time”.

Jenna Julius, author of the NFER’s report and an economist at the organisation, 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.”

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