One in four teachers could be missing as Suffolk schools return
- Credit: PA
Suffolk schools are preparing for as many as one in four staff members to be off when pupils return from the Christmas break tomorrow - leaving many struggling.
Staff absences are likely to reach unprecedented levels this week as Omicron continues to spread, resulting in fears some schools may have to send pupils home and reintroduce online learning.
Secondary schools are expected to test all pupils, or to ensure they have self tested at home using lateral flow tests (LFTs), before they return but not everyone has been able to get hold of the testing kits due to a surge in demand over Christmas.
Anna Hennell James, CEO of Orwell Multi Academy Trust, is hopeful their schools - including Brooklands Community, Grange, Handford Hall, Halifax, Willows and Springfield primaries - will be able to remain open.
"We had an every increasing level of staff absent before Christmas," she said, admitting it was increasingly problematic finding cover.
The trust has planned for one in four staff being off this week and although cover is in place, it is not sustainable.
She said: "We could not keep going this way for long."
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Longer term solutions have been discussed, but the academy chief is unconvinced.
"I know the DfE asked retired teachers to come back and such, but I do not think many will be takers for that."
Julia Upton, headteacher at Kesgrave High School, said: "We are already dealing with some staff absences related to Covid. This will be manageable in the first instance but it is clear that this could be extremely challenging in the weeks ahead.
"The availability of agency staff is very limited and, in fairness, not always the easiest fix to high-quality continuity of education unless they are well known to the school from previous employment."
Dave Lee-Allan, head of Stowmarket High School and chair of the Suffolk Association of Secondary Heads, has three "critical" staff off and warned schools are at a "challenging point".
Mr Lee-Allan said many schools are now unable to book agency staff, and warned the situation could get worse.
But he said they are ready to act if the need to and added: "We are now used to last-minute changes and have had to learn to be adaptable."
Headteacher at Felixstowe School Emma Wilson-Downes is confident they can continue running classes as normal and said: “We had some staff isolating prior to the Christmas break and we expect a few this week."
Deputy Suffolk secretary of the teachers’ trade union NASUWT, Simon Whitney, said: "Schools are not a babysitting service to enable people to return to work and certainly not to cover up for the incompetence of a government which has ‘let the infection run wild’ and not provided proper means of ventilating schools."