Covid: Lewisham Schools Forum to make representation to DfE

Lewisham schools are facing a £2 million deficit over Covid costs.

The Schools Forum has agreed to make a representation to the Department for Transport (DfE) after a survey also showed other pressures of about £300,000.

At a meeting on Thursday (December 10), members said forcing schools to absorb Covid costs is “not on”.

The DfE previously enabled schools to claim for financial support to cover “exceptional costs” associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.

It covers up to the end of the 2019 to 2020 summer term, but does not include the autumn term.

Extra funding was announced in November for schools and colleges “facing the greatest combined staff and funding pressures”, who will be able to claim via a new short-term workforce fund.

“This new package of funding is in addition to the biggest increase to core school funding in a decade, including a £2.6 billion boost this year and a further £2.2 billion next year, as well as support given to schools in the summer to cover exceptional Covid-related costs,” according to the DfE.

To claim from the new package, mainstream schools and colleges must be experiencing a short-term teacher absence rate at or above 20 per cent, and/or a lower long-term teacher absence rate at or above 10 per cent.

But Mala Dadlani, group finance manager of children and young people at Lewisham Council, told the Forum that she does not have “sufficient information” on the new claim.

“All I’ve got is headlines from the minister, which suggest that for schools who’ve got 20 per cent plus sickness with surplus balances of no more than four per cent there is an opportunity to claim,” she said, adding there is a “general sense of disappointment” in schools.

Ms Dadlani did a survey of schools in the borough, which identified significant Covid pressures.

Of the 77 maintained schools in the borough, 61 responded.

They have reported pressures exceeding £300,000 related to premises, free school meals, and additional cleaning.

“In addition to this, schools feel that there is roughly £2 million of spend incurred in other areas, [including] anything from loss of income, to the cost of PPE, to the cost of supply cover, learning support assistance (LSA) cover etc…” Ms Dadlani said.

She said some schools have suggested they’ll be able to find savings elsewhere but the “majority seem to suggest this has been a financial pressure”.

Headteacher Niall Hand said “all schools are feeling the financial burden of Covid on their budget”, particularly around cover, loss of income, and PPE.

“For central Government to be asking schools to absorb those costs is something that as schools forum we should say is not on,” he said.

Headteacher Matt Ringham warned not only about current Covid pressures, but also the potential loss of income ahead which could be “longstanding”.

Headteacher Sharon Lynch said the DfE must be aware that the financial data it has on claims from the summer will be “considerably less” now schools are at full capacity.

“What’s important is that they don’t go on to use that as data as ‘this is the cost to schools’.

“Because of course the summer term costs will have been considerably less because we were not full,” she said.

The forum agreed to get a draft representation ready ahead of its next meeting in January. It’s hoped by then more schools will have responded to the survey.

The DfE has been contacted for comment.

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