Local Authorities During Covid-19: How the UK Government and Councils Have Supported Education and Children

Since the coronavirus pandemic, schools and local Governments have seen increased demand for their support. As the roles of teachers and Councillors have extended beyond official requirements, Local Authorities have become even more integral to support the education, health and wellbeing of children and young people.

Below we explore how the Government and individual Councils have become even more important during Covid-19.

Government Support for Schools and Families During Covid-19

  1. Looked-After Children

Local Authorities have generated additional resources to promote health and education for all children during lockdown, with particular support provided to looked-after children and their carers. Rather than enforce a temporary halt to foster placements, local Governments have made concerted efforts to place children with suitable carers, which during the pandemic resulted has resulted in up to a third of looked-after children living outside the cities in their areas, at much higher costs to LAs. Government staff are working harder than ever to stretch budgets and place children during the pandemic, meeting short-term needs and planning for longer-term support.

Many Local Authorities have ramped up investment into promoting fostering to potential carers, and a new inquiry aims to drive positive change for looked-after children. The Government’s kinship care report identifies and analyses the discrepancies of social care for children between the North and South of England, and makes recommendations to provide legal and financial support that could dramatically increase the percentage of looked-after children who are placed with relatives and extended birth families.

  • Catch-Up & Intervention

In June 2020 the UK Government announced a £1 billion catch-up package to directly tackle the impact of lost teaching time. £650million will be shared across state primary and secondary schools in England over the 2020/21 academic year. A £350million National Tutoring Programme will directly support disadvantaged young people by increasing access to tuition services people over the upcoming academic year.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson comments, ‘This package will make sure that every young person, no matter their age or where they live, gets the education, opportunities and outcomes they deserve, by spending it on measures proven to be effective, particularly for those who are most disadvantaged.’

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  • Funding for SEND Needs

In addition to core funding allocations, Local Authorities have continued to manage high needs budgets and top up high needs funding to schools in their areas. The proactive monitoring of funding has helped to ensure that wherever possible, staff supporting pupils with SEND (Special Education Needs and Disabilities) are retained and paid as normal.

The UK Government also created a new fund for exceptional costs associated with coronavirus. Grants are available for all state-funded mainstream and special schools, and could cover such costs as utilities, additional resources and cleaning requirements.

Many Local Government bodies run Advisory services to help parents and schools support young people with SEND. During Covid-19 Councils have experienced increased demand to support young people with Autism, ADHD and other needs, and through resource bases have extended their services to reach as many families as possible.

  • Summer Holiday Assistance for Disadvantaged Children

Over 14million children in the UK are eligible for free school emails, and rising poverty and disadvantage means that 3million children are at risk of going hungry over the school holidays. The coronavirus pandemic has further and rapidly exacerbated socioeconomic disadvantage: the average monthly rise in food bank use was over 17 times higher in 2020 than in 2019, and the Trussell Trust reports its busiest ever period, giving out 81% more emergency food parcels, including 122% more parcels for children, across the UK than the past year.

The rise in unemployment, the longer-term effects of months under the furlough scheme, and working hours lost from ill health or self-isolation have delivered financial pressures to families that have never been seen before. Historically the summer holidays have proved challenging for children from lower-income households, however the missed education and reduced support during months of school closures meant that disadvantaged children would suffer disproportionately in the summer break of 2020.

In response the Department for Education (DfE) created a ‘Covid Summer Food Fund’. The initiative enabled children who are eligible for benefits-related free school meals to be supported over the summer holiday period. A dedicated portal was set up for schools to order these directly, and Local Authorities worked with local schools to partner local supermarkets, manage allocation and meet family needs.

In July the Welsh Government announced an extra £2.6million investment for children across Wales during the summer holidays. A Local Authority Emergency Hardship Fund was set up to deliver £1.6million to childcare and play provision. The funding will help Local Authorities support children aged five to 16 to take part in social and development activities they may have missed out on while they couldn’t go to school during the lockdown.

Local Authorities across the UK have also worked directly with summer clubs and tuition programmes to ensure they met all Covid-19 regulations and had sufficient staff capacity to stay open throughout local lockdowns.

  • Covid-19 Safety

On 17th September the UK Government published updated Covid-19 guidelines for schools and everyone in the education sector.

The guidance sets out public health advice that schools and staff must follow to minimise risk and act promptly and safely when dealing with coronavirus cases. Local Authorities and schools in their jurisdictions have begun working together to ensure the following rules are implemented and monitored:

  • Social distancing inside and outside of the classroom
  • Face coverings where recommended
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) where necessary
  • Self-isolation of symptomatic staff and students
  • Hand washing and hygiene procedures amongst pupils and staff
  • Enhanced cleaning measures

Local Authorities are also proving vital in helping schools to engage with the NHS Test and Trace process and manage both symptoms and confirmed Covid-19 cases amongst the school community.

  • Emergency Childcare

When school closures were announced in the UK in March 2020, Local Authorities stepped in to provide emergency childcare. Local Authority nurseries and Early Years childcare continued to provide emergency childcare for vulnerable children and children of key workers throughout the pandemic. Councils have also supported parents by providing direct access to externally-run Ofsted-registered childcare including nurseries, preschools, childminders and after-school clubs.

Services were required to operate flexibly to cover shift patterns, children of different ages and support needs including SEND, whilst ensuring the health and safety of all children and staff.

How Will the Relationship Between Local Authorities and Schools Change in the Future?

Whilst plans to merge health and social care are proving controversial and have yet to be confirmed, the Covid-19 pandemic has provided unprecedented transparency into public sector systems and therefore can create new opportunities for collaboration.

Local Authorities and schools alike will soon be met with challenges including changes to national Government funding, new Ofsted regulations and the rapid increase in the numbers of primary and secondary schools that are transformed into Academies. Rising numbers of school-age pupils, teacher shortages and the long-term effects of Covid-19 will mean that in the next five years, Local Authorities will become an even more crucial support system for schools around the UK.

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