Covid-19: Financial Implications for Schools — [Stewart Hosie in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:21 pm on 7th October 2020.

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Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education) 4:21 pm, 7th October 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie, for the first time as far as I am concerned. I congratulate Gareth Thomas on securing the debate. Education does lie at the heart of our national mission as we recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Helping children to catch up on the time that they lost as we took action to stem the spread of coronavirus is critical, not only for this generation of schoolchildren but for the economic and social health of the nation. It is thanks to the outstanding efforts of our teachers and staff that pupils are continuing to receive the education and opportunities they deserve in the face of this pandemic.

The Government have been clear that pupils in all year groups, and from all types of school, should return to school full time from the beginning of the autumn term. Figures show that, as at 1 October, 99.8% of schools were open and 92% were open to all their pupils. Over 7 million children and young people are back in school, representing 90% of pupils across the country. I am delighted to hear from the hon. Member for Harrow West that the return to school in Harrow has gone relatively well too. We continue to do everything in our power to ensure that every child can be back in their classroom safely, as that is the best place for them to be for their education, development and wellbeing. The Department has published detailed guidance to support schools to implement protective measures that are endorsed by Public Health England and fully informed by evidence from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. Schools will have access to testing, PPE and advice from their local health protection team where needed.

The Government are supporting schools during the coronavirus outbreak and we are delivering the biggest funding boost in a decade, which is giving every school more money for every child. We are increasing core schools funding by £2.6 billion this year, and £4.8 billion and £7.1 billion by 2021-22 and 2022-23 respectively, compared with 2019-20, including additional funding specifically for children with special educational needs and disabilities. On top of that, we are providing £1.5 billion per year to fund additional pension costs for teachers, contrary to what the hon. Member for Harrow West said in his opening remarks. Overall, that will bring the schools budget to £52.2 billion a year by 2022-23. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said—in a report other parts of which were quoted by the hon. Member for Harrow West—that investment will broadly restore schools funding to previous levels in real terms per pupil by 2023.

On special needs funding, high needs funding has increased by nearly 25% over these two years—a rise of £780 million this year and £730 million next year—bringing total high-needs funding to £8 billion. We understand the pressures that schools and local authorities are facing with high-needs and special needs costs, which is why we have introduced such large increases, particularly large increases in the special needs budget. The hon. Member for Harrow West asked about the spending review. That is happening as we speak, so I cannot say what will be in it, but this is a priority for this Government, as we have seen from these two years of spending.

We need to acknowledge that every child and young person in the country has experienced unprecedented disruption to their education as a result of coronavirus, and those from the most vulnerable and disadvantaged backgrounds will be among those hardest-hit. We are hugely concerned about that as a Government, as are the hon. Gentleman and Fleur Anderson. That is why, on top of that £2.6 billion increase in this year’s schools budget, the Government are providing a package of additional support worth £1 billion to ensure that schools can help children make up for lost teaching time, recognising the additional work that schools will need to do to help students catch up. Of that package, £650 million is being provided in the form of a universal catch-up premium for schools. The grant recognises that every young person has lost time in education as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. That £650 million—£80 for every child in a mainstream school and £240 per pupil in a special school—will be delivered in three tranches across this academic year.

It is likely that disadvantaged and vulnerable children will have been hit hardest by this outbreak. That is why we have also launched the national tutoring programme, to provide additional targeted support for those children and young people who need the most support to catch up—one-to-one and small group tuition. We have also been providing additional funding to schools on top of existing budgets, in order to cover unavoidable costs incurred between March and July due to the covid-19 outbreak that could not be met from those schools’ budgets. Schools were eligible to claim for increased premises costs associated with keeping schools open over the Easter and summer half-term holidays, support for free school meals for eligible children who were not in school and where schools were not using the national voucher scheme, and additional cleaning costs incurred due to confirmed or suspected covid-19 cases, over and above the cost of existing cleaning. Schools have already received initial payments of £58 million in respect of their claims against those expenses, and those payments have been made to schools that claimed only against their standard expenditure categories. Some schools have made claims outside their standard categories, and we are assessing those claims. If we decide that they are eligible, they will be paid later in the autumn term.

The Government are committed to the continuation of high-quality education for all pupils, and to the ambition—shared by schools—of ensuring that everyone can catch up and reach their full potential. We have therefore invested over £100 million to support remote education, and have already delivered over 220,000 laptops and tablets for disadvantaged children who would not otherwise have access, supporting those children to stay online and connected with their teachers during the summer term. Those laptops and tablets remain the property of the schools and local authorities, so that they can continue to be used to support education, and we are now supplementing that support by making available 250,000 additional laptops and tablets for disadvantaged children in years 3 to 11 in the event that face-to-face schooling is disrupted as a result of covid-19 outbreaks or local restrictions that mean that children become reliant on remote education.

The Department have also made £4.8 million available to Oak National Academy to provide video lessons, for reception up to year 11, for the last summer term and for this coming academic year. That will provide a resource to support teachers throughout this academic year, helping them to transition education from the classroom to online in the event of local restrictions. So we are working to support all children to return and start to reverse the enormous costs of missed education. This will be an important move back towards normal life for many children and families. We are extremely grateful for the exceptional efforts that teachers, headteachers and other school staff have been making to support their pupils during this very challenging period, and we know that we have the professional knowledge and expertise in our education system to ensure that pupils and students recover and get back on track. To help them do so, we are providing schools with the resources they need to get children back into the classroom safely and protect a generation of pupils from the disruption caused to their education by this pandemic.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).