Fri. Jan 21st, 2022

School leaders warned against further disruption of teaching due to the latest spate of Covid-19 and said they were preparing “innovative” adjustments in light of widespread staff absenteeism.

After a Christmas holiday season overshadowed by the Omicron variant, children in England began returning to the classroom on Tuesday for a new school term. But as Covid-positive staff isolate and shortage teachers, school leaders said lessons can be scarce and plans for GCSE and A-level exams may be threatened.

While most said it is too early to determine the extent of disruption, some teacher absences have reported double digits and are already planning to make adjustments, such as e.g. learn online, while others warned against injustice, GCSEs and A levels would continue.

“We’re in a bit of a perfect storm over supply staff availability – there has been a huge increase in demand and a significant reduction in supply,” said Mike Walters, a school leader and chairman of the Kent Association of Head Teachers , said.

“It will be doubtful how good the quality of education will be in those circumstances,” he added. “I’m really worried about the implications on exam groups.”

Many secondary school pupils will only start lessons at the end of the week to allow them to be tested for Covid-19, according to government guidelines. They will also wear masks in classrooms to help control the spread of the virus.

And while the extent of staff shortages so far is unclear, educators acknowledge that they may need to take unusual steps to ensure education continues.

On Sunday, education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said schools should prioritize face-to-face learning, but he encouraged “a flexible approach”, including combining classes or moving some online, if that is not possible.

The education department said it had introduced a “series of measures to keep young people in the classroom”. Ian Bauckham, chair of Exam regulator Ofqual, said schools could suspend “specialist” classes such as PSHE to maximize resources.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, warned that a “small increase” in staff absenteeism would cause “real problems” and the government should be “realistic” about expectations.

“If the priority is to keep children in school, we will need innovative approaches to delivery when staff is critically low,” he said.

Dan Moynihan, chief executive of Harris, which runs 50 primary and secondary academies in London, said early indications were that a significant number of staff members, including head teachers, would be absent in the coming days. He said he was “definitely anxious” about the exams ahead this summer.

“We have a terrible feeling that we will see large numbers of absences within two weeks,” he said. “If large numbers of children are off for January and February, it will make things very difficult.”

Samantha Offord, head teacher at Birchfields Primary School in Manchester, said 13 staff members were already unable to work, leaving gaps in teaching that had to be filled with existing staff. Ten percent of children were absent.

“Teaching assistants covering teachers, Lunch staff covering teaching assistants. No cover for meetings [or] training, ”said Offord. “This is not a good start. We can do it for the time being, but it is unsustainable in the long run. We literally have to take every day as it comes, which makes planning effective teaching and learning extremely difficult. ”

Additional teacher stress and disruption for students meant exams this year would not be “comparable to 2019,” said David Weston, a former teacher and head of the Teacher Development Trust.

“Without a doubt, daily teaching and learning is going to be so much harder with so much absence,” he added. “There will always be compromises.”

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