Ealing Central and Acton MP Rupa Huq has pressed Education Secretary Gavin Williamson MP to “compensate” local schools that have struggled with Covid-19, amid reports that at least 80 per cent of schools in the borough have had confirmed cases of the virus.
In the House of Commons, Huq argued that school finances had been hit by staff absences and renovations to accommodate social distancing. Chiswick School, Burlington Lane, for example, has knocked down walls in order to keep students at a safe distance.
She also called for school staff to be further up the priority list for Covid-19 vaccinations, after they received a pay freeze from Rishi Sunak last month. “[Will he] prioritise vaccinating not just teaching staff, but the admin lot, who have worked non-stop throughout all this?” Huq asked. “The Chancellor seems to have given them all an effective pay cut last week.”
Williamson — who came under fire for his handling of the A-Levels results scandal earlier in the summer — said the Government had “already set out details to support schools” during the pandemic.
The Government has promised to stick to the spending plan it announced in August 2019 to increase school funding. It has also announced a Covid Workforce fund to cover extra costs, but the fund only covers the period of 1 November to the end of the current half-term, and schools with reserves are not eligible. Research by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has reported that one in four schools may not be able to meet Covid-related costs, even with increased government funding.
Sarah Raffray, headteacher of St Augustine’s Priory in Ealing, said: “The significant challenges in schools are the huge financial and emotional costs we are bearing; enhanced cleaning regimes – from cleaners to materials; supply teachers have to be paid for with huge budget implications. The growing challenge is the emerging mental health disaster for young people – the knock on for social care must be equally vast. The toll on teaching staff is also growing – for months now the level of care required at every level – safeguarding and academic cannot be underestimated.
“All Heads yearn to have children in school and every time we have to send a group home our hearts break. Human beings are at the heart of this tragedy, families whose grief we share and teachers who are risking their own lives – it is a mighty time.”
After her question to the Education Secretary, Huq said her heart went out to school staff, and reaffirmed her belief that schools should receive more support.
“It’s unacceptable that schools in my constituency are being shafted left, right and centre by this callous Tory Government. Their promises to increase funding for schools are a drop in the ocean. Headteachers have told me they are in the red, and struggling desperately to meet all the costs brought on by the pandemic.
“In a straw poll of heads, from my own son’s high school in Acton to the primary school I attended myself as a child in Ealing (Montpelier), a number of issues were identified, from slipped progress on T Levels to meaningless teacher assessment in a period where nothing is normal. School staff have kept this nation going but seem to be ignored by government.
“On top of that, school staff, who have done a fantastic job over the course of the pandemic, have been rewarded for all their hard work with an effective pay cut. It’s time for the Government to get its act together by properly investing in our schools, teachers and young people.”