New funding to help colleges with a poor cash position to cover the costs of staff absences incurred between November and the Christmas holidays has been announced.

The Department for Education said the ‘Covid workforce fund’, announced this afternoon, will be backdated to 1 November, and colleges’ eligibility will be based on their cash position in their November financial statement.

“It is designed for schools and colleges facing significant funding pressure, and will cover the costs of high levels of staff absences over a minimum threshold, to help ensure schools and colleges can remain open,” the department said.

However, it has not said how much funding will be available.

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.”

Colleges must be experiencing a short-term teacher absence rate at or above 20 per cent, as well as or instead of a lower long-term teacher absence rate at or above 10 per cent.

Costs, which include bringing in supply teachers and paying additional hours for part-time teaching staff, can only be claimed when incurred above this rate.

The department has said claims for support staff absences will be “on an exceptional only basis”, where they are necessary to keep colleges open.

Detailed guidance will be published “shortly,” the department added. 

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that while the additional funding is “welcome” 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,” he added.

“Neither does it address the enormous costs involving in implementing and managing Covid safety measures.”

The extra funding for colleges in a poor cash position comes after the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s top officials revealed to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee yesterday they had identified 64 colleges at risk of running out of cash.

The agency predicts £70 million will be spent this year on emergency funding for colleges, which is above their previous predictions.

The DfE has told colleges today if they need additional support on top of the funding and advice already available, they should contact their ESFA territorial teams

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  1. Yet more funding will be thrown at colleges without any scrutiny from government. Inadequate financial leadership and sycophantic governance mean that many of these are black holes. How many FE colleges actually provided cover for absent staff? How many of them operate with those levels of absence anyway? What impact will this extra funding have on learners?