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School staff shortages caused by Covid tests ‘could force more remote learning’

REMOTE online learning may be forced on schoolchildren again as the omicron variant spreads and forces teachers to isolate, school heads warned today.

Others may find their classes merged to combat a shortage of teachers, they said.

The government has been slammed for being too slow in introducing new controls to slow the spread of the virus before schools return.

Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) general secretary Geoff Barton said: “It’s hard to imagine that if the NHS is being affected, retail is being affected, if sporting fixtures are being affected, it’s hard to see why you wouldn’t in schools and colleges have the same issues around staff shortages.”

NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman said schools were “taking the additional measures announced over the weekend in their stride” through arranging testing for pupils and informing parents and carers about the new rules on face coverings.

“They are hoping the extra measures will be enough to minimise disruption to education this term, but only the next few weeks will show how effective they really are,” he said.

“The biggest concern is staffing. Teachers and school staff will be testing and reporting their results at the start of this week and only then will school leaders know who they have available and be able to properly plan.”

Children returning to secondary schools today have been told they must wear face masks in class.

Unison assistant general secretary Jon Richards said: “An increase in the use of face coverings and better ventilation are welcome but should have been in place before Christmas to have slowed the infection in schools.

“Providing 7,000 filters is a helpful step. But with over 20,000 schools — many with dozens of classrooms — this will barely scratch the surface.

“These new measures also don’t address the need for extra funding to meet additional costs to schools and colleges, such as paying for agency cover when staff are sick or isolating.

“Nor do they tackle the additional workload for those who are able to work, or ensure staff working for private contractors are given full sick pay when they need to isolate.

“Unions have been calling for these changes for months. But just like last year, changes announced at the last minute leave little time to prepare for the new term.”

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