Schools brace for quarter of staff to be absent due to Covid

·3-min read
Secondary school students  (PA Archive)
Secondary school students (PA Archive)

Schools are preparing for a quarter of their workforce to be isolating or sick due to Covid-19 related reasons, according to the head of a teachers union.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told BBC Breakfast there is a “mixed picture” of how Covid is affecting absences in schools so far this term.

He said: “Not all schools and colleges are open yet and won’t be until Monday so we’re not going to get a proper picture of staff absence until next week.

“There’s a snatched snapshot taken from a small number of primary schools earlier in the week that suggested that might be around 10% of the staff absent. The Government itself is planning potentially for 25% of staff.”

Barton said children will look back at the coronavirus pandemic “almost like evacuees of the Second World War”.

He added that pupils living through the pandemic will be able to see what they achieved as part of the “Covid generation”.

His comments come after the Government announced face masks should be worn in classrooms in England’s secondary schools and a return to education for some pupils following the Christmas break.

Mr Barton said: “Masks are one way that we can get more young people in school and remind ourselves that young people are playing a really important role in protecting each other and protecting their teachers.

“It’s almost like those evacuees of the Second World War thinking, ‘Look what we did, look what we achieved but what we learned through that. We were part of this Covid generation’.

“I think all credit to those young people, and all the staff in school.”

Mr Barton said he has heard young people do not like wearing masks “but recognise that this is one way that they stay in education”.

Earlier this week, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi warned staff absences in schools are likely to rise this term.

He told MPs: “We must do everything we can, everything in our power to keep all education and childcare settings open and teaching in-person.

“Schools will be suffering some degree of staff absences. At the end of last year, the figure was about 8% of staff off, and that is probably likely to rise with increasing cases in school and of course young people as we return to school.”

Last month, Mr Zahawi called on retired teachers to return to school to help tackle staff absences.

It comes as a recent survey revealed that more than a third of school leaders are experiencing staff absence levels of over 10 per cent due to Covid-9.

Almost all schools have pupils off for Covid-19-related reasons at the start of term, according to the snap poll by school leaders’ union NAHT.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, warned schools are “teetering on the edge” with “considerable” shortages, adding that absences due to illness may “very likely rise” during the term.