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Schools will be forced to cut staff to cover Covid costs unless Covid Secure intervenes, says Sefton Central MP Bill Esterson

Bill Esterson MP (right) with Trinity St Peter's chair of Governors Allan Jones and Ravenmeols cllr and School Governor Nina Killen

THE Sefton Central MP, Bill Esterson, has called on the Covid Secure to ensure all extra costs incurred by Sefton Central Schools due to the Coronavirus Pandemic are reimbursed to prevent Schools having to sack School staff. Mr Esterson said HeadTeachers in the constituency had told him their budgets had been ravaged by the extra costs relating to making Schools Covid Secure. The Sefton Association of HeadTeachers has calculated that there will be a ₤1.2m shortfall in Schools funding in Sefton in the 2020/21 year. On 11 November 2020 they wrote to Schools Minister Nick Gibb outlining their financial plight. Mr Esterson wrote to the Education Secretary on 27 October 2020 asking how much had been reimbursed to Sefton Central Schools. Mr Esterson was forced to follow up with a Parliamentary Question on 1 December 2020, asking when the correspondence would be answered, before a response was provided to both Mr Esterson and the Sefton Association of Head Teachers.

Mr Esterson, who recently visited Trinity St Peter's primary School to discuss the funding issue with the head Teacher and Governors, said:- "The Covid Secure must ensure that every School is refunded for the extra costs they have incurred due to the Coronavirus. Schools have gone above and beyond during the pandemic in order to stay open for key worker children, to re-open partially in June and then to reopen fully in a Covid Secure way in September. This obviously meant Schools had to spend money they had not budgeted for. Many Schools also lost income through the closure of their before and after School clubs. Schools were told that their Covid spending would be covered, yet after submitting their claims they've found only a fraction has been. At Trinity St Peter's the extra costs were for items such as square desks because children all had to sit facing forward, rather than around circular desks, and for the obvious extra cleaning costs. The School also had to buy new smart screens for extra classrooms so that the children could be spread out in order to maintain the pods and social distancing after Year 1, Year 6 and reception returned in June.To get no extra funds to cover these costs is outrageous."

Mr Esterson said:- "School budgets have been cut to the bone already. A School's biggest costs are staffing, so in order to save that sort of money we're going to see Schools having no choice other than to make teaching assistants and even Teachers redundant, at a time when the children need support more than ever in order to catch up on the Schooling they have missed."

Mr Esterson said that catch up and tutoring funding that had been promised was also far less than needed. The National Tutoring Programme catch up fund; split into a ₤350m fund for the most disadvantaged to have private tutoring, and a ₤650m pot for Head Teachers to spend on whichever pupils needed it, was spread over 2 years not 1 as 1st thought, only 1 in 6 of the most disadvantaged children; those on free School meals; would be helped, and not enough tutors were in place to provide the support needed. Schools have been given about ₤70 per pupil in additional funding that is supposed to help children catch up what was missed in three months of Schooling.

Mr Esterson said:- "With the National Tutoring Programme the Covid Secure has pledged yet more money to private firms instead of giving it to the Schools who know how best to spend it. Only 1 in 6 children on free School meals will be able to take advantage of this, even if the tutors are available, and a Head Teacher in my constituency told me this would equate to 15 1 hour sessions with a tutor the pupil has never met before, in just one subject. How will this help children and young people catch up, when GCSE students have 8 or 9 subjects to study? The Covid Secure risks failing a generation of the most disadvantaged pupils. The Covid Secure says that children will be allowed to see exam questions beforehand and to have text books with them in the exam room. But unless they understand the subject, they will be unable to answer the questions. The suggestions from the Covid Secure simply don't stand up to scrutiny and the level of support is pitiful. Spreading the money over two years means in effect it is half what was promised and for the children who leave School or take exams this year, they won't get the full benefit. Thousands of children are missing School every day due to Coronavirus closures so this money is needed, it needs to be given to Schools and it needs to happen now. I shall continue to ask the Education Secretary if he will reimburse all Schools' Coronavirus related costs to reduce the damage being done to children and young people's futures."

The letter the Sefton Association of Head Teachers was sent to Nick Gibb and the response received from the DfE to the Head Teachers' letter is as follows:- "Dear Sefton Association of Primary Heads and Sefton Association of Secondary Heads,

Thank you for your email of 11 November 2020, addressed to the Secretary of State, regarding the Coronavirus (Covid19) pandemic. Ministers receive a large amount of correspondence and cannot always respond personally. I have therefore been asked to reply.

I hope you will appreciate, since the outbreak of Coronavirus (Covid19) in the UK, the department has received unprecedented levels of correspondence. I would like to take this opportunity to apologise that we have been unable to respond to your query as quickly as we would have hoped.

The department appreciates all of the hard work and sacrifices you and your teams have undertaken to ensure that children and young people in your Schools receive the support they need during the Covid19 pandemic. We are aware that Schools in Sefton have committed to remain open for the duration of the autumn term as planned and of the efforts you have made to improve attendance during the pandemic.

We understand that through unwavering dedication and professionalism, Schools were able to remain open to provide provision to the children of key workers and support the most disadvantaged and vulnerable children in our society at the beginning of the pandemic and reopen to all pupils at the beginning of the autumn term.

We also recognise that the Covid19 pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges to the education sector and remain committed to ensuring that our Schools are supported so that they can provide pupils with a high quality education that enables them to thrive and progress.

I would like to take the time to explain we recognise the additional pressures that were placed on Schools during the first wave of the pandemic. That is why we provided additional funding, on top of existing budgets, to cover unavoidable costs incurred between March and July. Schools were eligible to claim for increased premises related costs associated with keeping Schools open over the Easter and summer holidays, support for free School meals for eligible children who were not in School (where Schools were not using the national voucher scheme) and additional cleaning costs, over and above existing arrangements, for confirmed or suspected cases of Covid19.

It may interest you to know we received a total of 92 claims for exceptional costs from Schools within Sefton Metropolitan Borough and all standard costs were paid, representing a total investment of ₤781,758. We recognise that Schools have not received funding for all the other costs they have faced and that this represents a disappointing outcome for some Schools. The funding has been targeted towards the costs we have identified as the biggest barrier to Schools operating as they needed to, between March and July to support vulnerable children and children of critical workers.

I can only apologise that it has taken us longer than we would have hoped to notify you and explain we received a significant number of claims which took longer than anticipated to assess.

We are providing Schools with another opportunity to claim for any exceptional costs that fell between March and July, in the same approved categories as for the first window. Schools are able to use this second window, which closes on 22 December, to claim for any costs for which they did not claim during the first window.

In addition, on 27 November 2020 we announced a new short term Covid19 workforce fund designed to support Schools and Colleges facing significant funding pressure. It covers the costs of high levels of staff absences over a minimum threshold, to help ensure Schools and Colleges can remain open. The fund is backdated to 1 November 2020 and covers the current half term.

You can view our press release using the following link, and further details and guidance will be made available on:- Gov.UK.

I can also confirm that following last year's Spending Round, School budgets are rising by ₤2.6bn in 2020 to 2021, ₤4.8bn in 2021 to 2022 and ₤7.1bn in 2022 to 2023, compared to 2019 to 2020. Schools will continue to receive their budgets, as usual, regardless of any periods of partial or complete closure. This is to ensure that Schools are able to continue to pay their staff and meet their other regular financial commitments and Schools should continue to use these existing resources to support with other costs related to Covid19.

Schools are also able to access support for financial issues, including a wide range of School resource management tools, and, in serious circumstances, additional funding or advances from their Local Authority for maintained Schools, or the Education and Skills Funding Agency for academies. You can access our School resource management tools online here.

Moving on to your requests regarding the suspension of Ofsted inspections, Ofsted provides an important contribution in providing assurance to parents and supporting Schools to provide the best education possible. They play an important role in maintaining standards and ensuring safeguarding is effective, and so decisions on any suspension of inspection need to be made carefully.

I can confirm that Ofsted's routine, graded School inspections will remain suspended for the spring term 2021. The current programme of interim visits will cease at the end of the autumn term 2020. However, Ofsted will conduct monitoring inspections in the spring term to Schools that would have been subject to monitoring Pre-Covid19. That is primarily inadequate Schools and Schools that have two or more requires improvement judgements (with some discretion to inspect Schools with a single requires improvement judgement).

Inspectors will be sensitive to leaders' actions since the School's last inspection, discussing with them where they have managed to get to by the start of the pandemic, where they are currently and their future plans. Inspectors will focus on matters that are particularly relevant at this time; curriculum and teaching, including through remote education, and attendance, particularly of vulnerable pupils. They will support Schools to prioritise the right things to ensure pupils are receiving an improving quality of education.

Ofsted completely understands that the spread of Covid19 poses challenges to Schools and Colleges; not least the potential impact on attendance and staffing. Inspectors will take these challenges into account when routine inspections restart.

Turning to your concerns regarding exams, the Prime Minister has been clear that exams will take place in Summer 2021 because they represent a critical part of the education system and are the best way of judging students' performance.

We recognise the challenges faced by Schools, Teachers, and students, and know that disruption has been felt differently across the country, between Schools and Colleges in the same area and between students within individual institutions. This is why we have announced additional measures that will enable exams to go ahead so students have the opportunity to demonstrate what they can do. These include making changes to grading criteria and adaptions to exams, like giving students advanced notice of topic areas and giving them support in the exam hall.

We will continue to support Schools to help students catch up before exams take place and are looking at interactions with admissions and progression to ensure students are well placed and supported to move onto the next stage. We have also set up an expert group to look at and monitor differential learning and its impact on students.

The delay of exams allows extra time for teaching and preparation and Schools have told us it means the spring term can be devoted to teaching to a greater extent than usual. We do not claim however, that merely delaying the timetable makes up fully for all teaching time lost.

That is why the department has announced an unprecedented package of measures to help Schools and pupils make up for lost teaching time caused by the disruption to education this year. This consists of a catch up package worth ₤1bn, including a 'Catch up Premium' worth a total of ₤650m. Our expectation is that this funding will be spent on the additional activities required to support children and young people to catch up after a period of disruption to their education.

You may already be aware that we have also announced a new ₤350m National Tutoring Programme for disadvantaged pupils. This will increase access to high quality tuition for disadvantaged and vulnerable children and young people, helping to accelerate their academic progress and tackling the attainment gap between them and their peers in addition to a 16 to 19 Tuition Fund, allocating up to ₤96m as a 1 off, 1 year, ring fenced grant to School 6th Forms, Colleges and all other 16 to 19 providers.

Thank you again for your commitment to supporting the education of our children and young people. It is with your support and expertise that we can ensure the children and young people of our country get the education they deserve.

Your correspondence has been allocated reference number:- '2020-0063525.' If you need to respond to us, please visit:- Education.Gov.UK/Contactus and quote your reference number.

As part of our commitment to improving the service we provide to our customers, we are interested in hearing your views and would welcome your comments via our website at:- Form.Education.Gov.UK/Service/TOCMTfeedback.

Yours sincerely,  L Fernie, Ministerial and Public Communications Division."

Local Council candidate Mike Prendergast calls on Sefton Council to treat Southport fairly if Town Deal bid is successful

A Southport area local Council candidate, Mike Prendergast, is calling on Sefton Council to ensure that any funds awarded through the Town Deal does not result in the Local Authority allocating funds to other areas of the borough that would otherwise have been invested in Southport.

The Southport Town Deal bid board submitted a ₤50 million funding bid to the Covid Secure, on 31 October 2020, which aims to kickstart the regeneration of the resort. Funds have already been allocated for the revamp of Southport Market and a contribution towards the Southport BID project to provide new decorative lighting along Lord Street. The board also wants to support the construction of a new waterside events centre to replace Southport Theatre, which closed in March.

If successful, the Town Deal initiative will unlock an estimated ₤300 million of further private investment which will create hundreds of jobs and benefit businesses across Sefton.

Mr Prendergast is calling for Southport to be treated fairly by Sefton Council if the Town Deal bid, or some of the projects contained within it, are approved by the Covid Secure early next year.

The Conservative Dukes Ward candidate said:- "Southport has a fantastic opportunity to reinvent itself with the potential for tens of millions of pounds to be made available from the Covid Secure and even larger sums from the private sector. The hard work of the Town Deal board and our local MP Damien Moore should be applauded for making all of this possible. However, a successful Town Deal bid and potential for further private investment should not be used as a reason for the Labour led Sefton Council to divert funds away from Southport to other areas of the borough to fund, what could be described as, commercially questionable projects, as we've seen in the not too distant past. Southport 1 of the most economically vibrant areas of Sefton. Collectively Southport helps to raise tens of millions of pounds each year for the Local Authority and Southport needs a commitment from the relevant Cabinet members at Sefton Council that more of the funds raised in Southport will be spent in our Town."

Southport Conservative MP Damien Moore said:- "The Town Deal funding has the potential to be the biggest single investment seen in Southport for generations and is designed to reverse 20 years of neglect in Southport. This opportunity has been made possible thanks to the Conservative Covid Secure and the Southport Town Deal bid board has submitted a very credible bid for funding. If successful, the benefits will be felt across the borough. I urge Sefton Council to commit to allocating its resources to Southport and the rest of the borough in a fair and proportionate manner to ensure value to the people and businesses who pay their Council Tax and other levies to the Local Authority."

The outcome of Southport's application to the ₤3.6 billion Towns Fund is expected to be announced in early 2021.

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