Education Planning Group: Schools update... 11 February

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dan barton

Dear all,

First and foremost I wish to extend my thanks to all of you, your senior teams and wider staff bodies for all of the time and effort that you continue to put in during these challenging times. 

Today's update contains a lot of information so please take time to read and digest it all and I would urge you to try and complete the short, one-question survey around the attendance of vulnerable children before breaking up for half term tomorrow where possible. 

With half term rapidly approaching I hope you all find time to relax and take a well-earned break.


Dan Barton
Assistant Director - Education and Skills

In today's update:

Attendance of vulnerable children

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, and particularly since the June and September re-openings, Cumbria was leading the way in terms of attendance generally and the attendance of vulnerable children. 

However, during the first lockdown, and now, our take up of places for vulnerable children has been significantly below the national average. I am sure the reasons for this are many and complex but it does mean that we are coming under scrutiny from the DfE and I need to be able to let them know with certainty that during this lockdown a school place has been offered to all vulnerable children across Cumbria. 

While I am sure that all schools will have made this offer to their vulnerable children it would be really helpful if you could complete our extremely short survey to confirm this action.

From half-term we would also urge schools to consider ‘re-offering’ places to their vulnerable co-hort (sending the offer prior to half term where possible). I know that many of you will already have plans in place to do this and very much appreciate your ongoing support with this issue, which I know is of great concern to all of us. 

Clawback of excess surplus balances – current position

At the joint meeting of Schools Forum SEN and Schools Forum budget working groups today the issue of clawback of schools’ excess surplus balances for 2020/21 was discussed. 

Given the current situation, particularly with regard to COVID-19 related costs, the working groups took the decision to recommend to Schools Forum that there should be no clawback of excess surplus balances for 2020/21. 

However, the working groups were clear that the policy on clawback of surplus balances remains and the position will be reviewed again next year. The next meeting of Schools Forum is 11 March when the recommendation of the working groups will be considered.

February Half-Term ‘Free School Meal’ Voucher System CLOSING SOON

The council’s FSM WONDE system has delivered e-voucher orders for over 260 schools and their benefits-eligible FSM young people over the February half-term holiday. The voucher’s value of £15 (£3 per day) for each eligible child is fully funded by Cumbria County Council using Winter Grant monies.

If you have yet to order, please do so as soon as possible. Please ensure your admin team/person is aware of the process, and has sight of this communication so they can manage the process on your school’s and parents’ behalf.

The Wonde system is simple. WONDE uses your schools MI to build the FSM cohort; admin order the vouchers and ascribe a value [£15], assign the vouchers and ‘pay the LA’. WONDE then send the vouchers electronically to your parents. More support and information can be found by visiting:

ttps:// and the webinar

What do schools need to do to access vouchers via Wonde?

  1. Sign up: If your school is not currently using Wonde, simply click here and fill out the form ASAP. Wonde will contact you to install their software which will enable you to launch the voucher system. It is essential the school’s administrator has access to the MI system admin and passwords at the time of downloading the software. This will enable an offer to secure immediate installation when the school is contacted by Wonde, which can take up to 15 minutes to complete. Alternatively, a call back will be arranged.
  2. Confirm numbers: If you have not used Wonde previously, please can confirm the number of vouchers you intend to order with Jason Spedding before placing the order. If you did use Wonde at Christmas and your numbers are now larger than the number of vouchers you ordered for the last holiday, please email Jason Spedding at to confirm the number of FSM benefit-related vouchers you will be ordering.
  3. Order vouchers: When your system is installed you can begin ordering vouchers for the February half-term period up to 5pm on Monday 15th February 2021. When asked to choose voucher value on Wonde, select input/choose £15 (£3 per day for 5 days). When placing the order, select the option ‘send invoice to LA’. Make sure you ‘assign’ your vouchers to parents.
  4. Invoice: You will receive an invoice for your records; the LA will also automatically receive your school’s order confirmation for auditing purposes. Schools should not pay any money for the WONDE half-term vouchers from their own funds; your vouchers have already been covered by the County council based on your FSM numbers.
  5. We strongly recommend that all vouchers are ordered as soon as possible.

If you require WONDE assistance, please contact

If you require county council assistance, please contact Ez Wealleans

What are the arrangements for schools not using Wonde?

The Cumbria/WONDE e-voucher scheme is the FSM option due to administration and funding arrangements. If you do not wish to use the e-voucher scheme because you have an existing local solution, please get in touch with either  Dale Hill or Ez Wealleans  as a matter of urgency.


Public Health updates on LFT testing and COVID-19 guidance for pregnant staff

Please find attached the latest update from our Public Health team regarding changes to the national guidance for Primary & Nursery Schools regarding LFT testing within 90 days of a positive PCR. 

The update also includes the latest guidance on COVID-19 and pregnant staff. 


National Apprenticeships Week live events

It is National Apprenticeship Week and Cumbria County Council will be hosting a number of  live online events to share top tips and helpful advice about their up and coming apprenticeship opportunities:

  • Thursday 11th February - 6pm - Apprenticeships at Cumbria County Council - getting started, top tips and writing an application - Join live event
  • Friday 12th February - 10am - Apprenticeships at Cumbria County Council - Join live event
  • Wednesday 17th February- 6pm - Join live event 

Anybody can attend the external online events. They will be particularly useful for any young people considering their career path, and for parents of young people who are deciding on what route to take.

Guidance on non-engagement with remote learning

We are aware that some colleagues are identifying that despite trying to encourage participation in remote learning some families are not taking up this opportunity.

If you are encountering this situation follow your internal processes to try to engage with the family and ask them what the challenges are. Focus on those situations where you are aware this might increase vulnerabilities. Keep a record of any action you have taken.

If you remain concerned contact your Access and Inclusion Officer to agree any further action.  The Access and Inclusion team has drafted a letter which could be sent to parents to explain the possible implications if they aren’t engaging and remind them of their legal responsibilities under Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act and also that not engaging could be considered if there are attendance difficulties in the future.

The Access and Inclusion team would send this letter following discussion with the school and modification of the letter as required. 

Asymptomatic testing in primary schools and nurseries – reordering test kits

We have added new guidance on reordering test kits to the primary schools and nurseries document sharing platform. To help us manage the supply and inventory across all education settings, please do not order more than two weeks in advance or stockpile test kits.

Please refer to the new guidance to make sure you follow the national testing policy and use your testing supplies accordingly.

Please complete the rapid testing contact form on this link to order more LFT tests.

First Aid Training reminder 

First Aid at Work (FAW) or Emergency First Aid at Work (EFAW) certificates that expired after 16 March 2020 can remain valid until 31 October 2020 or six  months from date of expiry, whichever is later.

All requalification training for these certificates should be completed by 31 March 2021. If first aiders are unable to access annual refresher training face-to-face during the pandemic, online refresher training should be undertaken to keep their skills up to date. Schools should make ‘best endeavours’ to have PFA on site for children aged 2-5. Read full guidance here