Emergency plan could see only eight school sites stay open across Stoke-on-Trent


Pupils could be educated at just eight school sites across Stoke-on-Trent if too many teachers fall ill with the coronavirus.

These strategically placed ‘hubs’ would cater for the children of critical workers, such as NHS staff, firefighters and police officers. All other pupils, apart from the most vulnerable, would remain at home.

The emergency plan is being devised by a joint education planning group set up by Stoke-on-Trent City Council and school leaders.

Group chairman Carl Ward said: “The hope is the plan will gather dust on a shelf and never need to be used. But it’s looking at preparing for if the crisis gets worse.

“If there are not enough staff to run schools, we need to coordinate the provision.”

Carl Ward, chief executive of the City Learning Trust

Details of where the eight hubs would be located have not yet been revealed. But one of them would be based at Haywood Academy, in Burslem, as it is close to Haywood Hospital.

Each centre would look after primary and secondary age pupils and would be staffed by teachers from a group of schools.

It comes as some multi-academy trusts are already pooling provision at their schools to cater for pupils who need to attend a school rather than learn from home.

Headteachers are also looking at tailoring support to make sure critical workers can get to their jobs. One idea being explored is extending the opening hours at some schools to fit round NHS shift patterns.

Mr Ward said: “Some schools are planning staffing from 7am up to 9.30pm. They would do a rota to cover it.”

Extended hours are also likely to be a feature of the hubs if they go ahead.

So far, schools have been coping well during the coronavirus pandemic. Data is being collected across the city every day to see where extra help might be needed.

On a typical day last week, just 620 pupils were attending a school site in Stoke-on-Trent, including 220 whose parents work for the NHS.

Schools are looking at tailoring support to fit round NHS workers and their shifts during the coronavirus crisis
Schools are looking at tailoring support to fit round NHS workers and their shifts during the coronavirus crisis

“There have been many school staff in self isolation. But that doesn’t mean they are ill,” added Mr Ward. “If they aren’t ill, they are still working from home.

“Most parents have heeded the message and have kept their children at home. They have been given work packs or are doing work online.

“There were a few teething problems for the first couple of days, but it is now running smoothly.”

The mammoth education effort has also seen staff volunteer to work during the Easter break so pupils of key workers can be looked after during the day.

Mr Ward, who is also chief executive of City Learning Trust, which runs Haywood Academy and Trentham Academy, said: “I would hope that all children will be back at school in September. But it’s very much dependent on how things are and we haven’t got a crystal ball.

“The implications of this will be seen for years to come. It could be years before we know the full impact of losing up to six months of education. It could have a massive effect.”

Staffordshire County Council has also been involved in planning for months of disruption.

Around two per cent of pupils – approximately 2,500 children across the county – are still attending a school site as they fit one of the priority categories.

Councillor Philip White, Staffordshire’s cabinet member for learning and employability, said: “Clearly, this is an evolving situation and everyone has worked tremendously hard to get the new arrangements in place.”

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