Schools that could lose thousands of pounds because of a change in the way funding for Covid testing is allocated will be able to claim the cash back, the Department for Education has said.
The clarification comes after a Schools Week investigation found a shift by the DfE to only fund testing costs based on the number of results uploaded, rather than on overall pupil and staff numbers, could leave some schools more than £20,000 out of pocket.
Schools that committed to higher levels of spending before we changed our guidance will be eligible to receive additional support
Secondary schools were told to prepare for mass testing of pupils upon their return in January, alongside regular testing of staff and repeated tests for close contacts of confirmed cases.
But the exercise was downsized after contact testing was paused and partial closures meant fewer pupils and staff in school.
Schools were initially told they would receive extra cash for testing based on pupil numbers submitted in the autumn census and a “standard assumption” of staff numbers.
But in an update last week, the department said funding would now be allocated against the number of test results recorded “to ensure the most accurate costs incurred are captured”.
Schools that spent money hiring marquees, agency staff and equipment on the basis that funding would be based on their overall numbers were left fearing for their budgets.
However, after being approached by Schools Week about the issue, the DfE said it would accept claims from schools for money lost.
“No individual school should lose out because of the change. Schools that committed to higher levels of spending before we changed our guidance will be eligible to receive additional support.”
Schools struggle to access test results site, fearing greater losses
Tina Button, the business manager at The Wyvern School in Ashford, Kent, said her school had trained four agency staff.
“Although we have managed to whittle this down to two now, and two of the school team, it has still meant additional expense,” she said, Her school struggled to access the site used to report results in the first week of testing, leading to fears they would see a further reduction.
Analysis of the DfE’s testing workforce planning tool by Schools Week found that larger secondary schools faced losing the most money.
A secondary school outside London with 2,000 pupils and 200 staff would have received £29,550 under the old funding system, to cover the period from January 4 to the February half term. Under the new approach, the same school with 5 per cent pupil attendance and 30 per cent of staff to test each week would get just £13,670.
For a school of the same size in inner London, the reduction would be from £38,350 to £17,490.
Hilary Goldsmith, a school business leadership consultant, said schools had “spent hundreds of hours researching, studying and training their staff on how to deliver the tests effectively”.
Another business leader, who asked not to be named, described the change to funding by test results uploaded was a “sneaky shift”.
It comes after analysis by the DfE found that changes to prices as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic had wiped out an expected real-terms increase in school funding this year.
Average per-pupil funding for five to 16-year-olds fell about 0.6 per cent in real terms between 2019-20 and 2020-21, when it was forecast to rise by 4.1 per cent.