Bishop's Stortford schools face 'crippling' Covid-19 costs
Schools in Bishop's Stortford are facing a financial crisis as they struggle to cover the extra costs of coping with Covid-19.
The situation is so bad that this week one mum was setting up a JustGiving page to pay for supply staff at Thorley Hill primary.
The school is one of 10 in the town – all six secondaries plus four of the 11 primaries – which are members of the Bishop's Stortford Educational Trust (BSET), a partnership of 19 schools in all whose aim, through collective, strategic decision-making, is to ensure that families have access to high-quality education provision as Stortford and its nearby towns and villages develop.
Current chairman Andrew Celano, the head at St Mary's Catholic School in Windhill, said: "It is commonly understood that the Government has, in the past, cut state school funding, year on year and for many years. Despite promises and more recent budget headlines, those cuts have not yet been made good.
"Therefore, spending significant extra sums on extra cleaning and Covid-19 related costs will not be sustainable in the long run."
Sue Tillett, a make-up artist, paid tribute to the "incredible" efforts by staff at Thorley Hill, where her 10-year-old daughter Ava is a pupil. But she said dealing with the pandemic had put headteacher Kim Perez in an impossible position.
A source explained: "The difficulty schools are facing is that when a member of staff has to self-isolate, it doesn't receive any funding to cover the cost. The staff member is paid and the school also has to pay another person to teach the class.
"The member of staff that's at home continues to plan and mark work and can also teach remotely to an extent – this needs to be highlighted as the teacher is still working – but with primary-age children you need another teacher to actually be in front of the children as well, thus two members of staff are paid.
"This is crippling when schools already don't have enough money in their budgets. Insurance will not pay out as the staff member is not considered ill. The cost of covering the classes runs into thousands of pounds."
The problem is particularly acute in schools like Thorley Hill, which the Indie understands has two members of staff who are extremely clinically vulnerable.
BSET also represents Stortford secondaries Birchwood High, Bishop's Stortford College, Herts and Essex High, Hockerill Anglo-European College, St Mary's Catholic and The Bishop's Stortford High School as well as Leventhorpe in Sawbridgeworth. Mr Celano said that all seven, plus primaries Windhill21 and Furneux Pelham, had coped with staff who have tested positive for Covid-19.
A spokesman for local education authority Herts County Council (HCC) said: "The council is required by the Department for Education (DfE) to fund schools on a formula basis using money provided... through the Dedicated School Grant.
"In normal circumstances, schools are expected to meet all their expenses from this. Over the summer, schools were also able to claim money for exceptional costs during Covid-19 direct from the DfE. This grant was available last term and DfE haven't announced whether they will have another round for schools to apply this term.
"Although it is not HCC's responsibility to help schools meet the additional costs of Covid, we are well aware of these extra costs and their impact on schools budgets, and have drawn this to the attention of DfE."
BISHOP'S STORTFORD EDUCATIONAL TRUST (BSET) member schools
Bishop's Stortford – Birchwood High School, Bishop’s Stortford College, Hockerill Anglo-European College, St Mary’s Catholic School, The Bishop’s Stortford High School, The Hertfordshire & Essex High School
Others – Leventhorpe School, Sawbridgeworth; Joyce Frankland Academy, Newport; The Broxbourne School; The John Warner School, Hoddesdon
Bishop's Stortford – Northgate, Thorley Hill, Thorn Grove, Windhill21
Sawbridgeworth – Mandeville
Villages – Albury, Furneux Pelham, Spellbrook, St Andrew’s (Much Hadham)