Schools and colleges facing significant staffing and funding pressures due to the pandemic will be able to claim financial support from the Government.
The Department for Education (DfE) has unveiled a short-term Covid workforce fund to help cover the costs of staff absences.
It comes after unions warned schools could be sent over the edge financially after spending thousands of pounds on keeping sites Covid-secure.
The fund, which will be backdated to November 1 and cover the current half term, will only be available to schools and colleges facing high levels of staff absences, or significant budget pressures, to ensure they remain open.
But school leaders’ unions have called on the Government to “go further”, adding that the additional funding will not fully address severe pressures on schools.
The latest DfE figures show nearly three in four (73%) secondary schools in England had at least one pupil self-isolating at home last week due to potential contact with coronavirus.
More than one in five (22%) of secondary school pupils were absent from class on November 19 compared with 17% the week before, the statistics show.
Schools will only be eligible for the fund once their financial reserves are down to 4% of their annual income.
Mainstream schools and colleges must be experiencing either a short-term teacher absence rate of 20% or more, or a long-term teacher absence rate of 10% or more, to be able to apply, the DfE has said.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Keeping schools and colleges open is a national priority, which is why I am launching the Covid workforce fund, to support schools and colleges facing significant budget pressures and staff absences.
“This new funding comes on top of our funding for schools facing exceptional costs during the summer months, the £1 billion Covid catch-up fund to help all children make up for lost learning, and the core school funding that is seeing the biggest increase in a decade.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the financial support does not take into account all extra costs that schools and colleges have faced since reopening in September.
He said: “While we welcome this additional funding it comes with many caveats and will not fully address the severe financial pressure on schools and colleges caused by the Covid pandemic.
“It provides only for staffing cover in the current half term, and does not take account of the fact that schools and colleges have been plugging staffing gaps since reopening in September.
“Neither does it address the enormous costs involving in implementing and managing Covid safety measures.
“We will continue to press for full reimbursement.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “At the end of a tough week for education, here is a glimmer of hope for some schools.
“The Government has finally responded to the clear pressure that school leaders have been facing and provided some financial assistance for the spiralling costs of Covid.
“We would like to see the Government go further, and our continuing discussions with them will focus on this in the coming weeks.”