Schools have been advised by ministers to start preparing for COVID staff shortages by merging classes into larger groups and considering “flexible” lesson options.
The latest advice sent to schools in an email from the Department of Education and published in an open letter by Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi comes as many students prepare to return to class on Tuesday.
It is already known that all high school students become students in England required to wear face masks in class as well as in common areas when they return.
Students are also expected to take lateral flow tests on site and take a test twice a week from home.
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Combine classes and take a ‘flexible approach’
Now, ministers have suggested that schools combine classes to ensure they remain open and “consider ways to implement a flexible approach to learning” when face-to-face teaching becomes impossible.
In his open letter to school leaders, Mr Zahawi said that this includes “using all your available teachers and non-teaching staff to maximize on-the-ground education for as many students as possible, while providing flexible facilities either on site or remotely to some students “.
However, he added that this “should only be in the short term”.
“I urge you to do everything in your power to protect face-to-face learning for our children and youth and I am confident that you will, of course, do everything possible to do so,” he said.
It comes after England and Wales reported 137,583 new COVID cases in the last 24 hours period means more than 1.1 million people had a confirmed positive COVID test result between 27 December 2021 and 2 January 2022 – an increase of 43% compared to the previous seven days.
And government predictions have predicted up to a quarter of public sector workers could be ill this month due to the Omicron wave of COVID infections.
‘Vaccinations remain our best defense’
The secretary of education said vaccination against COVID is the “best defense” against the virus, as it encourages children and young teenagers to come forward for the jab.
The latest figures from the Labor Party show that almost half a million 16- and 17-year-olds do not stay vaccinated.
Mr Zahawi said: “Vaccinations remain our best defense against COVID-19 and that is why every child and young person aged 12 and over is eligible to receive the vaccine.
“It is also vital that we all – including parents, carers, teachers, early childhood professionals, eligible students and anyone working in education and childcare – as soon as they can go out to to get the booster job, to protect the NHS, to protect our way of life, and to protect education and childcare. “
Stephen Morgan MP, the Labor Minister’s shadow schools, said the government had shown “no sense of urgency” in getting faxes to young people.
“The chaotic approach of the Conservatives, at the last minute, is detrimental to the education of students, and this can not continue,” he said.
As of 1 January, 51,771,547 people had received their first vaccine dose, which is 90% of the UK’s population aged 12 and over.
More than 47.4 million people were double jabbed and 33.9287,754 had received a booster or a third dose.
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Calling back former teachers
In a Twitter thread, Mr Zahawi reassured people that personal teaching would “continue to be the expected norm” and praised teachers for their “herculean efforts”.
He also called on former teachers to come forward to support temporary workers in the new term, saying many have already stepped up.
“It is this Blitz spirit that will be essential to turn the tide on COVID,” he said.
Rev Steve Chalke, the founder of one of England’s largest academy trusts – Oasis Academy Learning, told Sky News 10% of staff at his schools had been laid off after testing positive for coronavirus or other diseases before Christmas, and staff was still “the biggest unknown”.
Teachers and support staff across the country have made a Herculean commitment over the past 18 months and more, and I know we can count on their continued support in the coming weeks as we continue this storm.
– Nadhim Zahawi (@nadhimzahawi) January 2, 2022
7,000 air purifiers are ‘completely inadequate’
Another measure taken by the government to protect educational institutions is the installation of air purification units.
An additional 7,000 will be added to schools, to add to the already announced 1,000, in addition to 350,000 CO2 monitors.
However, Dr Mary Bousted, co-secretary general of the NEU education department, said this did not go far enough.
“Seven thousand more air purifiers is something, but it is completely inadequate for what should be a basic human right, providing clean air in every classroom in every educational institution,” she said.