Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi is calling on former teachers to come out of retirement and return to the classroom due to over 13,000 staff absent through Covid
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Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi is hoping for an army of former teachers to come out of retirement to keep schools open in January with over 13,000 staff members absent due to Covid.
The government is looking at measures “to boost supply capacity” amid reports that some schools are experiencing “very severe low attendance” among teachers and pupils ahead of the Christmas break.
Headteachers’ unions have warned of possible disruption to in-person lessons in the new year if the Omicron variant leads to even higher staff absences.
Latest Department for Education figures show 2.4% of teachers and school leaders, around 13,000 people, were absent from schools in England due to Covid related reasons on December 9.
School leaders and academy chain chiefs are preparing for the possibility of having to switch to online learning next term – and some pupils have been asked to take laptops home before Christmas just in case.
In an email to school and college leaders ahead of the Christmas break, Mr Zahawi said: “We know that in areas with high absence a particular issue can be the availability of supply staff. We want to make sure that as many supply staff as possible are available to schools and colleges.”
He added: “We will work with sector leaders and supply agencies over the coming days to offer advice to ex-teachers who want to provide support to schools and colleges.
“We will help them to register with supply agencies as the best way to boost the temporary workforce available to the sector.”
Zahawi also encouraged teachers to contact people they know who may be interested in returning to the classroom.
He said: “From now, you can support this effort by using your own professional and personal networks to encourage others to sign up to offer temporary help.”
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The DfE has also announced it will be extending its workforce fund for schools and colleges facing the greatest staffing and funding challenges amid Covid-19 to the February half-term.
But education unions and Labour have warned that the government’s actions are “unlikely” to be enough to solve the problem with staff shortages.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “This is all coming very late in the day for a situation which is already critical and has been so for some time, and the initiative will need to be well publicised, promoted and supported in order to have any degree of success.
“It is also important to emphasise that even then it is very unlikely to be enough to solve a problem at such a scale as this, and the government does need to do much more in terms of supporting control measures, such as testing and ventilation, in order to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus.”
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “With this call for retired teachers to come forward the government is admitting they are assuming there will be substantial disruption of education in January.
“It is important to say that this disruption is likely to be made worse because of the government’s failure to put in place the mitigations and safety measures we have been calling for – on ventilation, air filtration, mask wearing and isolation of very close contacts.
“We still need those mitigations to be put in place – even to help with the effort of recruitment of temporary retired staff.”