[Updated] The coronavirus (COVID-19) workforce fund is funding that has been reintroduced in order to provide financial support to schools with significant staffing and funding challenges. This funding has been extended to help cover the costs for workforce absences, of both teachers and support staff, experienced from 22 November 2021 to 8 April 2022 only.
Funding is available for all state-funded mainstream and special schools, and AP that provide education to all pupils who are required to be in compulsory education.
Schools will need to self-certify that they meet the criteria for the fund and can only apply if the following is applicable:
- They were open to all pupils on the days in question (unless pupils were not physically in school in-line with public health advice)
- Alternative options were tried, e.g. meeting the teacher absence threshold but being able to manage this with existing staff and resources, but were not possible
- They can certify that the claims made are for necessary spend to remain open to all pupils
- They are able to provide evidence for the claims as outlined in the guidance here.
- Costs are not already covered by an insurance policy.
Schools will need to use any existing financial reserves before claiming and should consider their level of reserves based on their expected financial position at the end of the current funding year. Schools will be eligible for this additional funding if their reserves at the end of the funding year are down to a level of no more than 4 percent of their annual or total trust income. For academies, the DfE financial reserves will be considered at a trust level.
Where the above criterion is not met at the year end, schools should be aware that funding can be clawed back.
To cover the costs in relation to teacher absences, schools must be experiencing either a total teacher and leader absence rate of 20 percent or more or have had a 10 percent absence rate for 15 or more consecutive days. Schools within trusts can calculate their absence rate at an individual school level rather than a total level across the trust; however, they will only be eligible for funding once the trust has met the financial reserves criterion.
Schools can claim for education and non-education support staff only if their role has been necessary to remain open to all pupils or to meet legal duties, e.g. cleaning, catering, transport, caretaking.
Special and alternative provision (AP) schools, including registered independent schools and independent schools, delivering AP must be experiencing a total teacher and leader absence rate above 15 percent on a given day, or above 10 percent for 15 or more consecutive school days – this is the same for teaching assistants and other support staff at these school types.
The claim window will open in the Spring of 2022 when more detailed guidance regarding the claims process will be published by the DfE.
Schools should consider whether they meet the above criteria and ensure that they have kept records to evidence this. As a part of the assurance process, the headteacher or SBM who submits the claim should consider their financial duties including signing their name against any claim to confirm that it is free from errors and non-fraudulent.
Schools are advised to submit data regularly through the Educational Setting Status form to make the claims process less burdensome and enable easier processing. On the form schools will be asked to give consent to use data submitted to provide assurance on absence rates submitted with the claim.
How the fund should be used
Schools are able to claim for expenditure to cover teacher and support staff absences to cover the following:
- Employing additional supply teachers, support staff, supply education and non-education support staff through agencies or direct contracts.
- Increasing the hours of part-time teaching, support staff, education and non-education support staff.
- Making necessary amendments to support staff terms and conditions so that they can take on additional responsibilities.
These claims can only be made for covering the absences of permanent staff who are on their payroll or on a long-term contract – claims cannot be made for temporary staff.
Schools cannot claim for any training or incidental staff-related costs or for increasing pro-rata pay, unless there is a commensurate increase in responsibilities.
In addition schools cannot claim expenditure which enables them to maintain their reserves above the 4 percent annual limit set out in the financial reserves criteria, or for any costs to support staff in the delivery of remote education.
When seeking additional external capacity, schools are advised to exercise financial prudence, seek the best rates they can, and to consider sourcing staff through temporary direct hire, the LA or trust, or recruitment and employment agencies.
Schools can use the DfE and Crown Commercial Service agency supply deal when using recruitment and employment agencies.
Schools should make the necessary payments from their existing budgets and record these in accordance with local finance policies. Schools will then be able to make claims for costs eligible for reimbursement in Spring 2022 when detailed guidance about the claims is published.
The DfE, however, does recognise that some schools may require short term advances to cover the additional costs to support cash flow – where this is the case, schools should contact their LA or the ESFA as appropriate.
DfE (2022) 'Coronavirus (COVID-19) workforce fund to support schools with costs of staff absences from 22 November 2021 to 8 April 2022' <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-workforce-fund-for-schools/coronavirus-covid-19-workforce-fund-to-support-schools-with-costs-of-staff-absences-from-22-november-2021-to-8-april-2022> [Accessed: 21 February 2022]