BRACKNELL Forest schools are facing a “huge” funding black hole caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Newly-released initial figures produced by the council indicate the borough’s primary, secondary and special schools are facing a Covid-19 bill of around £851,000.

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Government grants have been made available for building costs, free school meal fees and additional cleaning, but this funding is only expected to come to £188,000.

But the Department for Education (DfE) government is not paying out for additional staff costs, loss of income and expenses from opening schools to more pupils from June 1.

This means headteachers across Bracknell Forest are looking at an anticipated funding gap of £663,000.

Bracknell News:

At a meeting earlier this week, council officer Paul Clark told headteachers and school governors: “There is a huge gap.

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“There’s a huge impact from loss of income of over £400,000.

“Obviously we are concerned about that.”

Mr Clark said Bracknell Forest Council (BFC) officers held a support session which 27 school leaders earlier that morning to help them with grant claims from the government.

The DfE has earmarked a maximum grant of £835,000 for coronavirus claims from borough schools.

He emphasised the importance of claims being submitted before a July 21 deadline, but added: “I don’t think we are going to get anywhere near the maximum amount the DfE has set aside, so that’s really disappointing.”

BFC education boss, Dr Gareth Barnard, told members of the Schools Forum he had been speaking to Bracknell MP James Sunderland and representatives for Windsor MP Adam Afriyie about getting more government support for schools facing financial struggles.

He said: “The lost income is something that won’t be clawed back because we are a low-funded authority to begin with, so this has a significant impact.

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“I do believe the DfE think it is helping schools by helping with home-to-school transport but that misses the point: it doesn’t actually impact on school budgets.

“I’m on the case, I raise it every week, I do know that James Sunderland met with the Secretary of State for Education in which he made that point and several others because it’s a really serious issue.”

Schools (excluding academies) are funded by the local authority, which hands out financial support through a schools block, a high needs block and an early years block.

At the end of the last financial year in March 2020, there was an overspend on the Schools Budget of around £2.4 million.

The Schools Forum discussed the funding issue at a virtual meeting on Thursday, July 16.