More pupils expected in schools than in March lockdown

Heads raise fears about social distancing and staff shortages amid predictions of more vulnerable and key worker pupils

Tes Reporter

Coronavirus: More pupils are expected in school than in the March lockdown

Schools are expecting a high turnout of children of key workers and vulnerable pupils on-site amid the national lockdown in England – with one school expecting hundreds to attend.

The prime minister announced that all pupils – except children of key workers and vulnerable pupils – would move to remote education until February half-term. 

But school leaders are expecting a significant proportion of eligible pupils to attend class, prompting concerns about social distancing, staff shortages and the ability to balance remote education.

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Steve Chalke, founder of Oasis Charitable Trust, which has 53 schools across England, said heads were preparing for a greater number of pupils to turn up to school on Wednesday than in the lockdown in March, as more children were classed as vulnerable and more parents who were key workers wanted a place.

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He said around a third of the cohort were expected to attend Oasis Academy South Bank, a secondary school in London, following the government’s announcement to stay at home.

The government guidance now says vulnerable children may include “pupils who may have difficulty engaging with remote education at home (for example, due to a lack of devices or quiet space to study)”.

On the guidance, Mr Chalke said: “If you look at the criteria for vulnerable children, it has grown in several ways. So we are expecting more back this time because people trust us and trust the provision we’ve made. They trust us to make these spaces as Covid-19 safe as possible. And of course, parents aren’t in a position to be able to teach their children.

“Last time we had a lockdown it was the spring and the world was bright because it was the spring and you could take your children out.

“This time it’s freezing cold and you’re locked in and parents think, 'Well, my child will be in a place where they’re actually learning, and with their peers and be safe.'”

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) was also hearing from school leaders that more parents who were classed as critical workers were wanting to take up places during the lockdown.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at ASCL, said: “The kind of indication that we’re getting is that more key workers are asking to take up those places than happened in the first lockdown.

“Obviously, schools are wanting to do what they can for those children and the vulnerable children as well, but some concerns that we’re starting to hear from some of our members are about the number of pupils they might end up with on-site.

“Some are saying – particularly in the more deprived areas – if all the children took up their offer of a place, they might end up with 50 per cent, 60 per cent or 70 per cent of their students on-site.”

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Tes Reporter

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