Schools face coronavirus bill of £25,000 to enable returns as heads warn 'we're on knife edge'

It’s been a week of big money promises.

£2 billion to create jobs for young people.

£1.5 billion for the arts.

Another £500 million on cut price meal deals.

But it’s the much more modest figures neatly written on a piece of paper that headteacher Simon Kidwell pushes across his desk that catch my eye.

It’s his financial reckoning with coronavirus. Under the title: ‘COVID Additional Spend’, it says:

  • Handwashing stations: £11,500

  • Cleaning materials £1,700

  • Signage and banner: £300

And so it goes on.

In all, his school, Hartford Manor Primary in Cheshire, has spent £16,000 to keep the children clean, safe and secure.

Then add the losses from the cancelled nursery and pre and after school classes and in total the school is £50,000 down.

“Financially, we’re on a knife-edge,” Mr Kidwell tells me.

“We didn’t have much in our back pocket.”

“So it means cuts?” I ask him.

“Absolutely. Cuts to our IT budget, cuts to the staffing budget and we need those staff more than ever because children have lost out on a lot of education.”

So no new teaching assistants or computers or staff training.

And his story isn’t unusual.

According to a survey by the National Association of Head Teachers, English schools are on average £25,000 down after coping with the costs of coronavirus.

One school put the total at £130,000.

Often, it’s the lost income from renting out buildings that leaves the biggest holes.

One school in London makes £10,000 a term from renting out its hall.

That business is gone and no one knows when it will come back.

  • School governor Tim Harford fears learning opportunities will be limited

The government says they can claim some of the costs, counted as exceptional. But Mr Kidwell says for him, that amounts to just £1,600 he’s spent on free school meals.

The Department for Education told us: “Plans for September will not require additional space or significant adaptations, and all state schools will receive a catch up premium to make up for time spent out of education.”

English schools are on average £25,000 short after coping with the costs of coronavirus, a survey has found. Credit: ITV News

That’ll be around £650 million.

But Mr Kidwell predicts his school’s "catch-up" cash will be absorbed by the losses he faces.

“I’m very worried about next year, there’s likely to be further disruption,” he warns.

“We could be looking at staff reductions at many of our schools in the spring on next year.”

A Lego PTA fundraising tower, far from its target. Credit: ITV News

I left the school with one slightly forlorn image.

The PTA’s fundraising totaliser – a tower of plastic bricks topped by a miniature model of the headteacher – remains stuck way short of its target.

It’s a testament in Lego to cancelled summer fairs and school sales.

Sometimes, amid so many eye-watering spending commitments, it’s the little things that count.