The National Education Union has called for “Nightingale classes” and an increase in teaching staff as new figures show around one in six state secondary schools were unable to fully open last week.
The latest school attendance statistics from the Department for Education (DfE) show that approximately 84% of state-funded secondary schools were open fully on 24 September – that’s down from 92% the previous week.
Schools are classed as ‘not fully open’ if they are unable to provide face-to-face teaching to all pupils for the entirety of the school day and have asked a group of students – or “bubble” – to self-isolate. The DfE said that the cause of schools not being fully open was “mostly due to Covid-19 related reasons”.
As a result of the increase in schools classed as not fully open, attendance in state-funded secondary schools fell from approximately 86% on 17 September to 84% on 24 September, according to the DfE stats.
The DfE report also suggested that 99.8% of state schools were open on 24 September, with the small proportion that were completely closed “mostly due to Covid-19 related reasons”.
This includes all state-funded primary, secondary and special schools.
Responding to the figures, the National Education Union (NEU) called on the Government to provide more support to schools in the form of extra teachers and funding.
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, questioned whether the Government have a grip on the escalating situation with schools and said their “inability to provide what schools need to ensure they remain open for as long as possible is unacceptable”.
She said: “With such a rapid drop in the number of fully open secondary schools in the space of just two weeks, it is clear the Government’s grip on the situation is now in question. It is doubtful the urgency of the situation has yet dawned on either Boris Johnson or Gavin Williamson, who must now ensure that schools are colleges are equipped to deal swiftly and effectively with any outbreaks that occur on their premises.
“This does not just begin and end with testing, although that situation is parlous enough. We need to see the drafting in of retired, supply and newly qualified teachers to get class sizes down. ‘Nightingale classes’ will be necessary to expand school space – we have been calling for that since June. We also need proper funding support to schools, so that they can remain Covid-secure.
“The Government’s inability to provide what schools need to ensure they remain open for as long as possible is unacceptable and will affect not only children’s education, but the wellbeing of staff and students.
“Some of the current partial closures will affect exam classes in years 11 and 13. It is time for the Government to set out a Plan B for this year’s GCSE and A-Level students, not just so that it can be scrutinised but so that the public has some assurance that the Prime Minister and Secretary of State have any sense of direction at all.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said it was “extremely concerned” by the drop in fully open state secondary schools.
“This reflects the extremely difficult circumstances in which schools are operating amidst rising infection rates in the community,” he said.
“While there are some signs of improvement in accessing Covid tests and obtaining timely public health advice in the event of positive cases, we continue to receive reports from schools that problems persist, and this is not good enough.
“It is increasingly clear that schools have effectively found themselves on the front line of managing the public health emergency, as well as delivering education, and the support simply has to be there.”