Schools ‘overwhelmed’ by costs of reducing spread of COVID-19 outbreak

  • 6 Oct 2020

With the return of children going back to school, the mass congregating of young people has seen a huge surge in COVID-19 cases across Britain.

Although children have been assigned to staying in social bubbles or taking precautionary measures in classrooms and taking bathroom breaks, the number of cases continues to increase, causing many schools to shut temporarily and the Government proposing a two-week lockdown during the upcoming half-term season.

However, beyond the growing risk of infection, a number of schools are concerned about the growing costs associated with keeping pupils and staff safe from COVID-19.

Until this point, schools have had to invest in additional cleaning staff, cleaning supplies, protective screens, hand washing basins on site, alcohol dispensers and video conferencing tools – whilst some private schools have had to battle with lower school admissions than usual and backlash from parents refusing to pay full school fees.

Other school hygiene measures include the use of wall cladding (which are easier to clean), hygienic doors and extra cubicles in cantines and restrooms.

Additional concerns have been raised over the cost and availability of cover teachers if a regular teacher has to isolate or needs to attend to family members who are expressing symptoms.

Looking at the number, an 11-18 academy with 950 pupils will be spending more than £30,000 to make returning to school safe this term.

A secondary school with 1,600+ students told us that its costs would be £43,000 for this term.

A FE college with over 6,200 students (including adult learners) has estimated the cost of implementing covid-19 measures will cost over £300,000.

Many schools and universities are able to receive grants and reimbursements from their local government or council. However, many must fit the bill upfront and there is a delay in getting their money back.

Plus, there may be a limit in the amount that they can get covered by their council and any extra precautionary measures must be funded by the school’s own funds.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, commented: “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.”

Following a rise in recent cases, several councils, including Cheshire, have upgraded their standard coronavirus procedures to the following:

 – All adults must wear a face covering when visiting, or entering the school premises — including outdoor yard areas.
 – Parents/carers should arrive and leave promptly when dropping off/collecting their children, avoid congregating with other parents, and maintain social distancing.
 – In school where it has been agreed that a parent/carer can enter the school premises to collect/drop off, only one adult should do so.
 – All staff should wear face coverings when they are in the playground at pick up/drop off times
 – Young people should avoid congregating with others outside school and go directly home.

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