Since the UK government announced the launch of their Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, we’ve had many academy schools reach out to find out whether it’s possible to furlough staff.

Whether or not this option is available to you is somewhat of a grey area. Because schools are funded largely by the government, many of your staff will not be covered by this scheme. Though there are some exceptions.

We’re going to run through what we know from the government guidelines (so far) to help you make decisions for your school.

Initial guidance said schools would not be expected to apply for the scheme

The government’s initial guidance included a clause stating that public body entities ‘substantially’ funded by the government would not use the job retention scheme. So, initially Academies were not expected to make use of the scheme.

This is on the basis that they already continue to receive their usual funding in full throughout the Covid-19 crisis.

We contacted the Academies Enquiry Service and received the following response:

‘The Department recognises that during this period of closure many publicly funded schools are not able to secure income from private sources that they normally would, for example letting their facilities, providing wrap around childcare or offering catering services.

Where schools normally provide a service or operation that is wholly or significantly funded by private income, we know this lost revenue will create additional pressure on budgets. Where schools have members of staff delivering these services, which were funded by private income, they should first look to make the necessary savings from their existing budgets or consider options to redeploy these staff.

Once having looked to these options, schools can then consider using the coronavirus job retention scheme (CJRS).’

Updated guidance says any exceptions to the rule must meet five conditions before furloughing

On 17 April 2020 the Department for Education issued guidance of what schools should consider in applying for the CJRS.

They advised that a school employee must meet these five conditions before furloughing can be considered:

  • the employee works in an area of business where services are temporarily not required and where their salary is not covered by public funding;
  • the employee would otherwise be made redundant or laid off;
  • the employee is not involved in delivering provision that has already been funded;
  • (where appropriate) the employee is not required to deliver provision for a child of a critical worker and/or vulnerable child;
  • the grant from the CJRS would not lead to financial reserves being created.

The full guidance can be found here but we’ve summarised the main points below.

  • For most employees who are paid by public funding, there’s nothing new in the updated guidance. Local authority maintained schools (including pupil referral units) and academies (including free schools) will continue to receive their budgets for the coming year, as usual, regardless of any periods of partial or complete closure.
  • However, the new guidance recognises that there are particular roles within these schools that may be an exception. For example, catering staff, who earn their income from the sale of school meals may be able to take advantage of the furlough scheme. Similarly boarding and letting staff, who are also typically paid from similar private income streams may qualify for furlough.
  • To be considered, these staff must meet the criteria laid out above. But it’s going to be tricky to decide whether or not your team members in these kinds of roles are truly eligible. Though privately funded, if they can be deployed in another role that is publicly funded, they won’t qualify for furlough.
  • Essentially, this is a last case scenario for those who absolutely cannot perform their privately funded role, and cannot pivot to a public funded role.

Where these conditions are met, schools should receive a grant from the CJRS

This grant is in line with the proportion of its paybill, which could be considered to have been funded by a school’s private income.

The DfE is considering appropriate measures to monitor the use of this scheme in order to detect any duplication of funding, and will be considering potential options to recover misused public funding as required.

You may be eligible for additional funding support on exceptional costs

In addition to the CJRS, the Department for Education did announce that there would be additional funding for exceptional costs incurred as a result of Covid-19. This announcement on 07 April 2020 suggested additional support would be provided until the end of July 2020.

Funding is available to cover costs relating to specific items necessary to provide appropriate support. This includes:

  • Increased premises related costs (including utilities and resources needed to keep the school open, such as hygiene services)
  • Support for free school meals (FSM) for eligible children who are not attending school, where those costs are not covered by the FSM national voucher scheme.
  • Additional cleaning required due to confirmed or suspected coronavirus (COVID-19) cases

The full guidance on these items can be found here.

We’re regularly updating advice for academies and we’re here to help

The guidelines may feel a little confusing at the moment, but the government is sending out weekly (sometimes daily) information to schools. The guidelines that are out there will need some interpretation from schools.

Whatever your specific situation, we are always happy to help where we can. If you just need to chat some things through, we’re here for that too. You can find our Academy Team here.