Vast majority of primary schools reopen in North Staffordshire (but some teachers ask to work from home)



The ‘overwhelming majority’ of primary schools have reopened this week despite some classes being hit by staffing shortages.

Staffordshire County Council said it has been notified of just four schools that have stayed closed and are now teaching pupils via remote learning.

But a number of other primaries have asked whole classes of children to stay at home.

In Stoke-on-Trent, at least one school is thought to have shut to all pupils apart from those classed as vulnerable or from key worker families. Its pupils are now being set work to do at home.

It follows the National Education Union’s advice to members that they have the right to refuse to return to the classroom if they feel conditions are unsafe.

The NEU says some of its 3,500-plus members in Staffordshire have sent letters to their schools, requesting to work from home. The exact number isn’t known at this stage as many schools organised training days for the first day of term.

Beatrice Harvey, the NEU’s Staffordshire branch secretary, said the decision was up to individual teachers and they hadn’t taken it lightly.

“They care about the students and their welfare, education and mental health. They are anxious to put them first,” she added.

“Members are worried for themselves and their families. They are also worried for the children.”

Ms Harvey stressed the sheer variety of schools across the county meant teachers faced different circumstances.

She added: “You have primary schools with 50 pupils and others with more than 500. Some classrooms are a lot more roomy and the class sizes are smaller.

“But others are teaching in cramped conditions where adequate ventilation isn’t possible.”

At Seabridge Primary, it is understood several classes of children have been told to stay at home. The school would not comment on whether this was linked to staffing shortages following the NEU’s advice.

But in a statement, the school said: “A number of students at Seabridge Primary School are currently learning from home, with work set by class teachers for students to complete.

“The school continues to adhere to all advice provided by the Department for Education and prioritise the ongoing needs of our children, staff and parents.”

Nationally, all the main headteacher and classroom unions have joined forces to call on the Government to rethink its school reopening plans.

They want to see pupils switch to remote learning for the first two weeks of term to help bring the new mutant strain of coronavirus under control.

Government guidance means secondary schools are already staggering their return. GCSE and A-level students are due back in the classroom on January 11 and other year groups on January 18.

But Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has insisted primary schools should reopen unless they fall within hotspot areas, largely in London and the South East. Staffordshire, Stoke-on-Trent and Cheshire East have not been identified as hotspots under the contingency plans.

In a letter to headteachers, county council officials have urged schools to update their risk assessments.

Although the authority is backing the Government guidance, the letter says it will support individual schools that face ‘difficult judgements’ over providing face-to-face teaching. This could be if they have a significant number of coronavirus cases or if they are left with ‘insufficient capacity’ due to staffing shortages.

Councillor Jonathan Price, cabinet member for education in Staffordshire, praised schools for their ‘determination’ to keep children’s learning going and stay open.

He said: “We are continuing to offer schools ongoing support and advice, and will work with them throughout the coming term.”





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