Headteachers have warned they do not have enough funding from the government to meet the extra costs of the Covid-19 crisis, leaving school budgets “in the lap of the gods”.
The new president of the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT), Ruth Davies, said schools are being expected to implement Covid safety arrangements “without any additional funding at all”, placing pressure on “exhausted” school leaders.
She called on the government to provide money for items such as personal protective equipment, extra cleaning, more staff and the physical adaptations made to schools. “It’s all having to be met from existing funds, which already have gaps.”
There is a particular problem with staffing costs, said Davies, as the “unreliable” test and trace system means teachers are having to self-isolate unnecessarily, waiting for results. “Headteachers don’t know from one day to the next what level of staffing they are going to have.”
Government guidance is “vague at best, and often changes overnight”, with school leaders working 70-hour weeks to try to keep up, Davies said.
The NAHT also called on Ofsted to drop plans to restart inspections in England in January, as they would be neither “fair nor useful”, Davies said. “It’s not just wondering what it is that Ofsted will be going in to inspect, but it’s also the unnecessary additional burden it places upon schools,” she said. “The profession has been sidelined. The government has refused to talk to us. We’ve asked to meet Ofsted and the response has been either nothing or just rejecting our offers.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “On average, costs to schools to become Covid-secure will have been a relatively small proportion of their core funding. On top of that our £1bn Covid catch-up fund has flexible funding to help all their pupils make up for lost learning.”
The spokesperson added: “Ofsted has started to visit schools to discuss how they are managing the return to education, including how expectations on remote education are being met. These will not result in a judgment. We intend to restart routine inspections from January. However this date is being kept under review.”