Colleges will be able to claim back money to help disadvantaged students absent due to Covid get online in the new academic year under a new “connectivity support grant” scheme, the government has announced.
But the Department for Education has warned it may reject claims for funding if disruption reported by colleges does not match up to its own data.
The new programme was unveiled this morning and is open to both schools and colleges.
In order to help provide internet connectivity for the most disadvantaged learners, the DfE announced it would make funding available of “up to £75” per student to provide mobile dongles or broadband routers between September and December.
Guidance has now been published on how the scheme will work. Here’s what you need to know.
1. ‘No limit’ to claims, but DfE ‘expects’ to pay up to £75
The DfE initially said the grant would be “up to £75” per pupil.
Today’s guidance states there is “no set limit for the amount that can be claimed” by schools and colleges, but the DfE expects claims to be “up to the equivalent of £75 per pupil or student”.
The DfE also expects claims to be “related to connectivity support needed by disadvantaged pupils and students”, and expects this will “correspond with the number of pupils or students eligible for, as applicable, free school meals or free meals”.
If a school or college does not have this information, it is “expected to correspond with estimated data or using free meals eligibility data”.
Higher costs than the £75 stipulated “may be approved where reasonable supporting information is provided”.
2. Colleges have to stump up the cash first…
Under the grant, schools and colleges will be able to claim back for connectivity support purchased between September 1 and December 31 for students who “do not otherwise have access to adequate internet connectivity at home when Coronavirus related disruption to face to face education has taken place”.
Settings will be able to apply for funding retrospectively in January 2022. The DfE said it anticipated making one-off payments at the end of March to eligible settings.
3. …and must keep their receipts
The guidance states schools and colleges must keep receipt records of any connectivity solution purchased during the period, and these must be kept available to attach to the grant claim and for any inspection “either as part of a spot check on connectivity expenditure or as part of an audit”.
Any invoices relevant to the connectivity costs must be paid by the school, college or local authority. The guidance adds that payment “must not be delayed solely in the expectation of the grant claim being approved”.
4. Colleges must report Covid disruption to the DfE…
To be eligible to claim back the money, schools and colleges must have experienced disruption to face-to-face education between September and December and have reported it to the DfE “where appropriate”, for example through the education setting status form.
Schools and colleges must also have confirmed with the students’ parents or guardians that they are not able to afford their own internet access.
This includes consideration of “affordable/social tariffs suitable for supporting digital remote education”, the guidance states.
5. …or risk claim being rejected
The government “may review claims against data available to DfE about disruption affecting the institution to which the claim relates”.
If the data does not confirm the reported levels of disruption, the DfE may “limit the claim amount or reject the entire claim”.
6. ‘Value for money’ must be sought
The guidance states that when purchasing connectivity solutions for disadvantaged students, schools and colleges “must seek to achieve best value for money”.
It adds the solutions must be in line with “guidance for their institution type regarding financial governance and procurement good practise”.
7. DfE may evaluate use of money and ‘adjust’ allocations
The DfE said that if claims are approved, schools, colleges and local authorities will have to agree to respond to requests to evaluate the use and impact of the grant.
Guidance added that the DfE reserves the right to check each providers ESSF return and it may “adjust an institution’s allocation if the recorded number of pupils absent or eligible for free school meals or free meals exceeds the setting’s allocation”.
8. Private providers not eligible for cash
A wide variety of institution types are eligible for the grant funding, including colleges, special post-16 institutions, local authorities, academy trusts, special schools, PRUs, AP providers and mainstream academies.
However, independent institutions are not. The DfE does not provide a reason for this decision.