The government has extended its Covid workforce fund until February half-term – signalling that ministers expect further disruption caused by the Omicron variant well into the new year.
The fund, which supports schools with the cost of filling staff absences, was reintroduced in November until the end of term following the emergence of the new and highly transmissible variant.
It was originally established in the second half of the autumn term last year and provides funding for supply staff and to increase hours of part-time teachers.
Latest attendance data from the Department for Education revealed a 20 per cent rise in staff Covid-related absences – with an estimated 2.4 per cent of teachers and school leaders were absent on December 9.
The number of pupils absent as a result of school closures tripled in the fortnight leading to last Thursday – rising from 1,000 to 3,000.
While the funding window has extended, DfE guidance remains the same and schools are told to “use any existing financial reserves” before claiming money back.
It adds: “Schools will be eligible for this additional funding if their reserves at the end of the funding year are down to a level of no more than 4% of their annual income. Trusts will be eligible to claim for any of their academies once their level of reserves is down to 4% of total trust income.”
Concerns raised over support for schools
Yesterday education select committee chair Robert Halfon raised an urgent question in the House of Commons over a lack of support for schools.
He asked why there was a “nationwide campaign for an army of NHS volunteers, but not for education?”.
“Why is a similar army for retired teachers or Ofsted inspectors not being recruited to support schools struggling with staffing requirements?”
He warned that “despite government assurances, it seems to me we are moving sadly towards de facto school closures”.
Ministers have pledged to do all they can to keep schools open, but stopped short of guaranteeing they would not close.