Schools inundated with demand for places ask key workers to keep children at home
- Credit: PA
Demand for key worker places has left some schools appealing to parents to keep their children at home as they struggle with staffing shortages.
Under the new lockdown rules primary and secondary schools have stopped classroom-based teaching for the majority of pupils until February half term.
The Department for Education said it expects “schools to work with parents" to make sure that critical workers get their children into classrooms during the lockdown.
More than 120 schools in Norfolk remained closed on Tuesday while they began allocated places to key worker children and vulnerable pupils.
Ashley Best-White, executive headteacher of the Nebula Federation, which includes White Woman Lane Junior School, Old Catton Junior School, Hainford Primary and Horsford Primary, said they had remained closed on Tuesday in order to identify which eligible children will require places.
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In a letter to parents she said the “safest place for your child is at home”.
She added: “Should there be a suitable adult at home, who can provide supervision, then please consider keeping your child with him/her as this will not only be safer for your child but also for the children and staff in school.
“Children in school will be completing the same remote learning activities as those at home.”
One Norwich primary school, where demand for places was so high it was struggling to staff classes, has contacted parents appealing for them to keep children at home if possible. Lakenham Primary School said it had also seen an increase in key worker place requests but had so far been able to accommodate them all.
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Queen's Hill Primary in Costessey has been inundated with more than 180 requests.
Headteacher Penny Sheppard said: "It is really tough for schools at the moment as we have very many parents and carers who are requesting places on site because they meet the current government criteria for a critical worker place.
“Whilst school leaders are doing their very best to try to accommodate as many children in schools as we can, we also need to ensure we do everything we can to limit the risk for our staff and pupils and still have enough staff to prepare, deliver and mark the remote learning.
“We also need to make sure that we are providing places for our most vulnerable children.
“This issue is being raised with the Department for Education and we may well see the criteria being tightened nationally.
“In the meantime, school leaders will be reviewing their risk assessments and may need to limit the number of places they can offer which may mean prioritising by job role or where both parents - or a single parent - meet the criteria.
“I have asked my parents and carers to reconsider whether they need a place, but with 180 key worker children currently on the list, I am likely to need to use our own criteria as we did in the first lockdown."
Norfolk County Council has advised parents not to send in their children to school unless invited to do so by schools, adding that this may take a few days.
A statement on the council website said: "This is so that school can identify the children who can continue to attend and decide how many staff they need. Your school will be in touch with you if you are entitled to a place.”
Mark Moore, headteacher at Ludham Primary, said: “I know that some schools have been absolutely inundated with key worker place requests and are really struggling to provide these and maintain safe class bubbles.
“To make this fair they are ensuring they have enough places for their vulnerable children and then offering places to children of key workers only if both parents are eligible.
“Many teachers are now in class all day as well as providing remote learning for pupils who are at home. Every headteacher is doing their very best to meet the needs of their individual school communities.”
He added: “We have been fortunate at Ludham and only have a small number of key workers who have requested places.
“This has given us capacity to offer further support to children who might be more vulnerable such as additional targeted mental health sessions for individual pupils.”
WHO IS A KEY WORKER?
- Health and social care (including, but is not limited to, doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, social workers, care workers, and other frontline health and social care staff including volunteers).
- Teachers, school support staff, childcare staff, social workers and other specialist educational professionals.
- Key public service workers, including: those essential to the running of the justice system, religious staff, charities and workers delivering key frontline services, those responsible for the management of the deceased.
- Essential public services and those workers on the Covid-19 response in local and national government.
- Police and support staff, National Crime Agency staff, firefighters, those maintaining border security, prison and probation staff.
- Ministry of Defence civilians, contractor and armed forces personnel.
- Food processing, production, distribution, sale and delivery workers.
- Utilities including oil, gas, electricity and water workers, telecom and postal services and delivery, bank and building society staff and payments providers.