Coronavirus: Schools could get extra cash to cover COVID-19 costs, minister says

Schools could be given extra funding to cover the cost of making them ready to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking on the day pupils in England and Wales returned to the classroom, schools minister Nick Gibb told Sky News’ Kay Burley programme that the matter is being kept “under review”.

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He added: “The funding settlement for schools this year and the next two years, which has been negotiated with the Treasury, has been very generous.

“That’s the funding that’s for these kinds of extra incidentals.”

Mr Gibb said a “huge amount of effort” has gone into making classrooms safe during the COVID-19 outbreak.

He added: “We had a scheme before the summer where schools could claim back up to £75,000 for extra costs depending on the size of the school, cleaning costs where there was a suspected case of COVID and so on.”

According to one report, the bill for preparing schools for the full reopening this week stands at more than £200m.

School leaders spoken to by The Guardian newspaper said the situation has seen budgets stretched to breaking point.

Labour’s shadow education minister Toby Perkins said there is “no question” the government should give schools money to cover the extra coronavirus safety measures.

“The government have been very quick to say they will support schools to make it safe, they’ve said the same to councils, and they haven’t come up with the money.”

He added: “We can’t be having schools having to lay teachers off just because they took the steps necessary to make their schools safe.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called on Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to face MPs in parliament and “tell us how he will protect our children’s futures”.

He added: “He needs to explain how he will make up for the damage already done, bring pupils up to speed and mitigate against the ongoing risk from the pandemic.”

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A survey has found that most pupils will be three months behind in their studies as they return to school.

For many pupils going back this week, it will be their first time in the classroom since March, when schools closed except for vulnerable children and those of key workers.

A recent survey of school leaders by the National Association of Head Teachers found that 97% plan to reopen their schools to all pupils for the autumn term.

The remaining 3% said they were planning transition periods for new pupils or phasing entry to lessen the worries of students and parents.

Education unions are calling for a temporary ban on school absence fines amid worries about COVID-19.

A poll by the charity Parentkind found that more than a quarter of parents (26%) said they were not planning to send their child back to school, with a further 20% still unsure.

Fines for parents who refuse to send their child back will only be used as a “last resort”, the Department for Education has said.

Parents can be fined £120 – which is reduced to £60 if paid within 21 days – over their child’s absence, with the possibility of prosecution for a repeated refusal to pay.

Meanwhile, the education secretary has said next year’s GCSE and A-level exams could be delayed in order to give pupils more time to study the syllabus.

He told The Daily Telegraph that England’s exams regulator Ofqual is working with the education sector to decide whether there should be a “short delay”.

Mr Gibb confirmed to Sky News that it is “something that we are looking at”.

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