Schools can afford Covid reopening costs from existing budgets, DfE insists

Schools that incur extra costs during the process of reopening more widely will have to meet them from their existing budgets, the Department for Education has confirmed.

In updated guidance on its exceptional costs fund for schools, the government states that schools are “not eligible to make claims for any additional costs associated with more pupils returning to school”.

We anticipate that schools will typically be able to implement the measures set out in our guidance (including increases to routine cleaning) within their existing resources

The decision not to allow schools to claim for things like preventative cleaning measures and equipment such as screens and signage was first revealed by Schools Week earlier this month, along with calls from school leadership unions for the scope of the reimbursement scheme to be widened.

But it seems their pleas fell on deaf ears, as the government’s latest guidance states that “we anticipate that schools will typically be able to implement the measures set out in our guidance (including increases to routine cleaning) within their existing resources”.

The department has told schools to increase the cleaning of surfaces and equipment, and provide hand sanitiser for pupils. They are also encouraged to implement one-way systems and alter classroom layouts.

School business leaders had hoped they would be given permission to claim from the exceptional costs scheme, which only currently covered costs associated with keeping schools open for key worker and vulnerable children, providing free school meals for eligible children not in school, and for cleaning following a confirmed or suspected case of Covid-19.

“Schools are not eligible to make claims for any additional costs associated with more pupils returning to school that are not covered by these categories”, the guidance update states.

Schools Week revealed earlier this month how some schools have spent thousands of pounds on preventative measures to make their premises safe for pupils and staff.

At the time, NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman said it was “essential that the department extends the scope of its exceptional funding guidance to include costs associated with the wider readmission of pupils as a matter of urgency”.

ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton added the fund “needs to be updated to reflect the fact that schools are bringing in more pupils, and to ensure that any extra costs are covered”.