'Generous' funding increases should cover £216m Covid costs, says Gibb

The government’s “generous” school budget increases should be used for estimated extra costs of £216 million to keep schools open during the coronavirus pandemic, Nick Gibb has said.

Speaking today, while the schools minister said whether to compensate schools for extra costs would be kept “under review”, he indicated that government thinking is schools can afford to take the hit.

“The funding settlement for schools this year and the next two years has been very generous and that’s the funding that’s for these kinds of extra interventions,” Gibb said.

Government has promised to increase school funding by £7.1 billion by 2022, but unions have warned once rising costs are stripped out – such as pay increases – this amounts to just £14k extra per school, and this doesn’t include any covid-19 costs.

A survey by the school leaders’ union NAHT found that schools had spent an average of £9,990 extra to get schools covid-safe.

The Mirror newspaper reported today this could amount to a £216 million bill for schools.

But schools had also taken a hit on income, too – with an average of £15,915 in lost income, for example in rental of lettings of buildings.

The NAHT survey, assessing spend between the start of the pandemic and the beginning of September, found almost two-thirds of schools had incurred additional staff costs for cleaning or site management.

Schools can claim back up to £75,000 for extra costs – however this only relates to when there is a coronavirus case, not preventative measures. Furthermore, to claim cash, schools must be able to show the spend would threaten their financial stability.

Paul Whiteman, the NAHT’s general secretary, has called for the exception funding scheme to be extended. He previously said the government had been “clear that schools should not be left out of pocket for these additional costs and it is vital they honour that commitment”.

But when pressed about compensating schools today, Gibb would only add: “We always keep these issues under review.”

He also confirmed the government is looking at pushing back next year’s exams until July, something that was first mooted in June. But he refused to commit to a deadline for a decision.

When asked about parents being fined for not sending their children back to school this week, Gibb said fines have “always been a last resort for headteachers”.

It comes as NAHT said the government should abandon fines for parents with covid-safety concerns for this term.

But Gibb said parents with concerns should talk to headteachers who can “assure measures are in place to keep children safe”.