At least 10 Stoke-on-Trent schools are staying open until as late as 9.30pm during the coronavirus crisis – to help the families of critical workers.
The new arrangements will run throughout the Easter holidays when schools are still laying on sessions for pupils from priority groups.
These include the children of NHS workers, police officers and firefighters, whose shift patterns mean they may struggle to drop off youngsters for 9am and pick them up at 3.30pm.
Earlier this week, StokeonTrentLive revealed that several schools were considering offering wraparound care from 6am or 7am right through to 9.30pm.
Now it has emerged 10 schools have already agreed to open between these hours. Others are also looking at extending their opening times. The focus will be on childcare rather than education.
Carl Ward, chairman of Stoke-on-Trent’s joint education planning group, said: “The headteachers are very keen to offer NHS and emergency workers the support they need to continue their work.
“These arrangements are made with key-workers in each school on an individual basis where needed.”
Around 400 pupils-a day are still attending school sites across the city during Easter as the coronavirus lockdown continues. But the vast majority of families are keeping children at home.
The joint education planning group is recommending all staff who volunteer to work over Easter should be paid an extra £20 per hour. This is in line with the rates offered to teachers running summer schools.
Mr Ward added: “It’s not a directive and each school or multi-academy trust could make their own arrangements, including time off in lieu.”
At Alpha Academies Trust, vulnerable pupils and those from key-worker families are based at two hubs over Easter, each covering a group of schools. One is located at Sneyd Green Academy and the other at The Discovery Academy, in Bentilee.
They are staffed from 7am, although parents have not needed to use any evening sessions so students have been finishing at normal school time.
Trust chief executive Simon French said: “I have been overwhelmed by the number of staff who were prepared to give up their Easter break to ensure support for the children of NHS staff and key-workers.
“These are unprecedented times and we continue to develop ways of supporting our students and their families.”
It comes as Stoke-on-Trent City Council has created a ‘bank’ of more than 100 people who can support schools if they face staffing shortages.
Council leader Abi Brown said: “We recognise there will be challenges for schools in terms of staff self-isolating. Schools have been doing a tremendous job to come together at this really difficult time.”
The Government has announced extra financial support for schools which stay open during the Easter holidays. But they can only access this funding if they can demonstrate their own budgets won’t stretch to paying the additional costs.
It will cover specific things such as cleaning, utility bills and other help needed to keep school buildings open.
After pressure from campaigners, education ministers have also agreed to extend their new food voucher scheme to cover the Easter break. Families normally eligible for free school meals on benefit grounds will be able to arrange for the weekly vouchers worth £15 per child. Schools were only told about the U-turn after they had broken up for the end of term.