Secondary schools report bills of as much as £39K a term for Covid safety measures

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The spiralling cost of Covid-19 safety measures – which for some secondary schools has reached £39,000 a term – has sparked renewed calls for government financial support.

The government has so far refused to reimburse schools for the cost of implementing Covid-19 control and safety measures.

However, analysis this week shows that some schools are being forced to spend as much as £75 per pupil, which almost wipes out the government’s £650m so-called Catch-up Premium, which equates to £80 per secondary school pupil.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) is now urging the Department for Education (DfE) and the Treasury to reconsider their refusal to intervene.

New analysis from ASCL has given an indication of the kind of costs secondary schools are facing.

  • A multi-academy trust with 2,000 pupils and two schools: £50,000 per term (equating to £75 per pupil).
  • A secondary with 700-plus pupils: Around £39,000 for the autumn term alone.
  • An 11 to 18 school with 950 pupils: More than £30,000 this term.
  • A secondary with 1,600-plus students: £43,000 this term.

ASCL general secondary Geoff Barton said he suspects that the Treasury is behind the decision not to reimburse schools but maintains this is a “false economy”.

The ASCL figures break down exactly where the extra costs have come. A significant contributor is enhanced cleaning, which at an additional 22.5 hours a week comes to £13,000 a year. Another major concern is the potential cost of supply cover if teachers must self-isolate. Other costs include:

  • Online ordering system for lunch delivery to pupil zones.
  • Digital textbooks: £750 to £1,000 per curriculum area.
  • Visualisers for most classrooms: £50 per unit.
  • Additional teaching assistant time.
  • Small building works (fencing/alterations to entrance and exits).
  • Sanitiser stations with liquid and wipes for every classroom and assembly point: Estimated £3,000 per term.
  • Fogging machines to sanitise common areas and spaces with large volumes of equipment, such as sports halls and engineering workshops.
  • Additional portable handwashing facilities, lidded bins and screens separating staff workstations in shared offices.

Speaking with SecEd, one secondary school headteacher from the North of England – who asked to remain anonymous – said that his school has spent £10,000 on setting up bins, hand sanitiser units, changes to school buildings, and equipment to convert classrooms.

He added: “The projection for hand sanitiser gel alone for the year is more than £10,000. We will spend thousands on replacing lost face masks alone. We had seen an increase in funding, but it feels like it’s all going on teacher pay rises and Covid – so none of it will be impacting the quality of learning.”

Mr Barton said: “We suspect the hand of the Treasury in the government’s refusal to reimburse schools and colleges for the cost of Covid safety measures. We understand its desperation to protect public finances but this is a false economy. It means that schools will have to divert money from elsewhere in their budget which is meant for teaching and learning. The extra funding for catch-up support will be almost entirely negated by the extra costs for safety measures.

“The government will inevitably respond by saying that it is putting an extra £7.1 billion into schools through to 2022/23 but it is important to understand that this spending was planned long before Covid emerged as a threat and that it is absorbed largely by rising pupil numbers, pay awards and other inflationary costs. School funding is extremely tight and budgets cannot sustain significant extra costs.

“We appeal to the government to reconsider this issue and reimburse schools and colleges for the money they have to spend on protecting pupils and staff and minimising the risk of virus transmission.”


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