Some Schools Are Facing Shutting Their Doors Because Of Staff Shortages In The Second Lockdown
Schools are facing staff shortages due to waits for coronavirus tests (PA)
Some schools are considering sending entire year groups home or temporarily shutting as the effects of the pandemic and lockdown hit staffing numbers.
A combination of teachers off sick with coronavirus, self-isolating due to exposure to the virus, or staying at home because they are clinically vulnerable means many schools are struggling to cope.
The issue is being compounded, according to reports, by a slow turnaround or difficulty accessing tests in some areas, which delays staff returning to work.
And these concerns have now been amplified following the news that staff classed as clinically extremely vulnerable are advised to work from home for the duration of lockdown while schools remain open.
“The main issue for our school, and others I know of, is the continuing lack of staff who are isolating or positive or ‘shielding’ — we were already a third of staff down before the clinically extremely vulnerable had to go off so we’re struggling,” one teacher told PoliticsHome.
“I don’t think it’ll be long before we have to send a year group home due to lack of staff.”
Meanwhile, another said: “Staffing is becoming pretty much the biggest issue with continuing to operate the school.
“No extra money is being provided for schools to cover costs and at the moment we have at least 6 or 7 teachers who are off self-isolating. There’s a big problem with slow testing of staff, taking days to get a test and turn it around.”
Steve Chalke, founder of the Oasis charitable trust which operates 53 academies serving 32,000 children, said the chain was “occasionally shutting schools” for short periods of time.
“The introduction of facemasks is not enough. It will not work. How do I know this? Because we've been doing it since the beginning of September, and we're overloaded with COVID cases.
“We're sending year groups home from our primary schools, and we're sending them home from our secondary schools.”
He stressed that he supported keeping schools open during the November lockdown, but said more needed to be done by the government to protect education workers.
“We believe we need to keep the schools open. On the other hand, we've got to look after our staff. And we are, because we have a duty to them as well. to their safety, their health, their and their mental health. We have to address those things all the time, and that's why we need extra help from government.”
He continued: “We need a national plan, and that national plan needs to come out of a joined up conversation between educational leaders, including union leaders, and government.
“That joined up conversation needs to produce a national plan for the continuity of education, because the desire to open schools is not the same thing as a strategy to keep them open.”
A recent survey of its members by the school leaders’ union NAHT, published in September, found that 45% of schools had staff who weren't at work because they couldn’t access tests, while 60% had staff at home waiting on tests results for Covid-19.
Temporary teaching staff and additional teaching assistant time were also cited as two of the biggest additional costs incurred by schools during the pandemic, with 62% and 53% said they’d spent extra on those respectively.
Unions are now leading calls for additional funding from the government to cover these extra costs, to ensure schools can stay open while the rest of England is locked down.
Paul Whiteman, NAHT’s general secretary, said: “Given the restrictions around clinically extremely vulnerable staff, the reality is that some schools may now find it increasingly difficult to remain open to all pupils.
“We restate our call for the government to fully fund all measures that schools will need to take to remain open, including covid safety measures and any additional costs that may come from hiring in supply staff.
Joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU) Kevin Courtney said it was “absolutely right” for clinically extremely vulnerable staff and students to remain at home, adding that “schools can and will make that work”.
“[The government] must prioritise schools for access to rapid turnaround tests like those being trialled in Liverpool, and should be making plans for secondary schools and sixth form colleges to move to a rota operation where children are taught every lesson but are at home some of the time,” he continued.
And, NASUWT General Secretary Dr Patrick Roach said: “If Ministers are to secure the trust of parents and staff throughout the autumn and winter, they must come forward urgently in the coming days with a robust and comprehensive plan to ensure that all schools and colleges are safe whilst they remain open to all children and young people.”
“The NASUWT has been calling on Gavin Williamson to address the lack of additional funding which is leading to schools to make critical decisions (e.g. in respect of cleaning, PPE, etc.) on the basis of cost rather than health and safety considerations.
Commenting on the calls, a Department for Education spokesperson said: “Our guidance outlines a number of options if schools are facing a shortage of teachers, including using staff more flexibly, recruiting both permanent and short term staff via our Teaching Vacancies Service and utilising trainees.
“Local authorities and trusts are also on hand to talk to schools about any concerns over staffing capacity.
“Schools have continued to receive their core funding throughout the pandemic, with this year marking the first year of a three-year increase to core funding - the biggest in a decade.”
They added that education institutions have been eligible to claim for certain pandemic-related costs, such as additional cleaning and free school meals, incurred between March and July up to a maximum of £75,000.