Children at school

A new report by the National Foundation for Educational Research (@TheNFER), reveals that there are a number of schools, which are disproportionately likely to be from deprived areas, who will be unable to meet the costs of the pandemic from the funding they receive from government.

The impact of Covid-19 on school funding has been unprecedented, with schools having lost a significant amount of income and incurred substantial additional costs.

Our analysis suggests that, based on national funding increases, approximately a quarter of schools may not be able to cover the increased costs of Covid-19 from this year’s funding increase. Deprived schools are twice as likely to find themselves in this position than the least deprived schools.

The funding challenges being faced by schools were revealed in our NFER surveys of schools’ responses to Covid-19 in May and July, which identified that a top priority for senior leaders was for the Government to provide more funding in order to manage the impact of Covid-19. Building on this research, this new report investigates the impact of the pandemic on the funding landscape in mainstream primary and secondary schools in England.

Key findings from the report are summarised below:

  • Schools have lost a significant amount of income and incurred substantial additional expenditures during the 2020/21 academic year.
  • A substantial number of schools started the pandemic with either a deficit or small surplus. These schools will be less able to absorb the unexpected additional costs of Covid-19.
  • The Government’s ‘levelling-up’ agenda has resulted in deprived schools – those in the quartile with the highest proportions of disadvantaged pupils on roll – receiving the smallest average increases in funding.
  • One-quarter of schools may not be able to meet the increased costs of Covid-19. This is because their notional per pupil funding increases of 2.5 per cent for 2020/21 will need to cover costs of teacher salaries and other inflationary pressures, which we estimate will average 2.7 per cent.
  • 1500 schools are at particular risk of great financial hardship due to Covid-19. These schools are disproportionately likely to be deprived.
  • Schools in urban areas, such as London, were more likely to apply for the exceptional costs scheme.
  • Current catch-up support is unlikely to reach all the pupils who need it.
  • Pupils in the most deprived schools, who are in the greatest need of catch-up support, are at the greatest risk of losing out.
  • While the DfE have just announced a new Covid workforce fund to cover the costs of high levels of staff absence over a minimum threshold for November and December, the scheme’s current eligibility criteria and coverage suggest that it will not go far towards easing the current resource pressures on schools.

The government did provide an exceptional costs scheme to pay for a limited number of core Covid-19 related costs, but this was only available between March and July 2020. Despite eligibility being restricted to schools running deficits, nearly two-thirds of mainstream state-funded schools applied - demonstrating the widespread impact that the pandemic has had on school resources. Schools in London and other urban areas were much more likely to apply for the scheme.

Our report also finds that current catch-up support is unlikely to reach all the pupils who need it. There are currently only enough places on the National Tutoring Programme for less than one in every five disadvantaged pupils in England. Access to technology also remains a significant barrier to schools supporting their pupils’ learning.

Jenna Julius, Report Author and Economist at NFER said:

“The pandemic has created significant pressures on schools’ budgets. Schools are facing substantial extra costs to keep their staff and pupils safe, and the existing funding provision is insufficient to cover these extra costs in some schools. Emergency support is needed now to help meet the costs of Covid-19, particularly for deprived schools without the financial resilience to meet the costs of the pandemic from their existing budgets.” 

mary boustedDr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:   

"The NFER report has confirmed what the education world already knew. 

"Schools are struggling to cope with the extra costs of Covid-19. Extra money is being spent on cleaning costs, school layouts and extra heating, meanwhile schools are losing out on lettings income. 

"It is unsurprising that schools in deprived areas are suffering most. The introduction of minimum per pupil funding levels mean money is being directed to better off areas irrespective of need. 

"The Government has announced a Covid-19 Workforce Fund to cover extra costs. However, it only covers 1 November to the end of the Christmas term and schools with reserves are not eligible. The Covid-19 crisis is set to continue until at least the end of the Easter term, and probably the rest of the academic year, so schools will be back in the same position from the start of the new year." 

 Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT, said:

“School budgets were set before the pandemic hit and were already incredibly tight. The mandatory unanticipated costs schools are now facing due to Covid-19, that have so far gone unreimbursed by the government, mean that money could be taken away from children’s education and wellbeing and some schools could be pushed over the edge financially.

“Our research shows that in just the first few weeks of term schools spent on average more than £8,000 pounds each on the safety measures demanded by the government. With restrictions set to continue until March next year, costs are spiralling.

“Last week the government offered a glimmer of hope for some schools, promising some financial assistance, but only for staffing costs and only if they have exhausted their financial reserves. There is still no additional money to help schools pay for essentials like sanitiser, masks, soap and other cleaning products. We would like to see the government go further, and our continuing discussions with them will focus on this in the coming weeks.”

The report makes a number of recommendations:

  • While it is crucial that existing and additional money is spent effectively, emergency support is needed to help schools meet the costs of Covid-19, particularly for those deprived schools without the financial resilience to meet the costs of the pandemic from their existing budgets.
  • The government should adopt a more progressive approach to National Funding Formula (NFF) funding during this unprecedented time to assist the most disadvantaged schools in providing the extra support needed to help their pupils recover lost-curriculum learning.
  • As schools are currently not able to access catch-up support for all of their disadvantaged pupils, targeted funding should be increased as part of a longer term programme of catch-up support.
  • Schools should be provided with additional in-kind and/or financial resources with a minimum level of IT devices and internet connectivity to ensure that all their pupils are able to access remote/blended learning and catch-up support. This could include sharing devices between pupils as the need arises.

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