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Schools are struggling to find enough places for all eligible children as demand rises

‘The majority of pupils are eligible for places’

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Schools have pleaded with parents to be ‘completely honest’ about whether they are key workers or not.

Across England, a number of schools are struggling to cope with the demand for school places while also offering remote learning simultaneously. 

It appears the problem is the government’s broad definition of a critical worker, which includes everyone from university staff to those who can claim to be essential to the provision of food and other key goods and services.

The Department for Education explained there is ‘clear guidance’ that children with at least one parent or carer who is a critical worker can go to school. 

They said: “The published guidance on critical worker and vulnerable children is clear about who can still attend school and we expect schools to work with parents to ensure all these children are given access to a place if required.”

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However, a primary headteacher in Greater Manchester explained that school staff spent Wednesday ‘interrogating’ parents after receiving 210 applications from key workers, reports The Guardian. At the start of the first lockdown, the school had 30 vulnerable and key worker pupils in attendance out of 500 in total.

The headteacher added: “You’d be hard-pressed to find any job that can’t be fitted into most of the categories.”

Some schools are now ignoring government advice, which explains that children qualify if one parent is a critical worker, and instead are asking that both parents prove they are doing essential jobs they cannot do from home. 

The Greater Manchester head added that some parents are going as far as to make up fake companies to make their case. She said she understood the difficulty for parents, adding: “I’m a teacher and I don’t want to home-school my kids, but at the minute I have to put the virus first.”

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At Our Lady of Lourdes primary school in Bury, the headteacher wrote to parents asking them to reconsider. 

They said: “We have been inundated with requests from parents. If we were to accept all the requests as well as the vulnerable children we have asked to come into school, we would have more than 50% of the school population attending school. This goes against the national lockdown of ‘stay at home’.

“I would ask for your complete honesty when applying for a critical worker place. If you are working from home or have another adult in the household who is not a critical worker, I would expect your child to access remote learning from home.”

The Association of School and College Leaders union (ASCL) has urged the government to reconsider the eligibility rules to mean children should only be able to go to school if both parents are key workers.

The director of policy, Julie McCulloch explained that there was a 20% cap on children in school in the first lockdown but there is no similar cap in the nation’s third lockdown.

She explained: “We are certainly receiving some quite worried messages from members around the country, who are finding that if they look at the eligibility criteria for school places, in some cases they might have 50, 60 or even 70% of their pupils who fulfil the criteria.

“At the moment, heads are completely in the dark, not knowing whether they can or should be saying to parents – ‘I’m sorry, we are full.’

“They don’t know what ‘full’ means. If the whole point is to reduce community transmission, if we are ending up with half of children coming into school, it seems unlikely that will be achieved.”

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The executive member for children and schools at Manchester City Council, Garry Bridges, explained that schools are experiencing extreme demand for places. 

He said: “In Manchester, we have very high numbers of children in the vulnerable categories as well as high numbers of those who meet the government criteria of critical or key workers.

“Those vulnerable groups of children are some of the most vulnerable children in the country and schools are obviously keen to make sure they have a place offered.” 

Mr Bridges added: “Instead of properly planning for a period of closure, the government plunged schools into closure overnight leaving many questions unanswered. It is now schools, staff, parents and children who are dealing with the consequences.”

 

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New government proposals could see cat owners fined £500

Here’s everything you need to know…

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Cat owners could be slapped with hefty fines under a subtle new rule change proposed by the government this week.

The new plans propose that all cat owners must ensure their pet is microchipped before they are twenty weeks old – there, the cat’s details will be stored and kept up-to-date in a database.

If a cat owner is found to not have microchipped their cat, however, they will have twenty-one days to get their pet microchipped or risk facing a fine of up to £500. 

@little_plant / Unsplash

Government figures show that out of the 10.8 million pet cats in the UK, as many as 2.8 million are still not microchipped. And, according to Cats Protection, eight out of ten stray cats coming into their centres are not microchipped.

The charity added that the procedure only costs between £20 and £30.

Animal Welfare Minister Lord Goldsmith said: “Cats are much-loved parts of our families and making sure that they’re microchipped is the best possible way of making sure that you are reunited with them if they are ever lost or stolen.

“These new rules will help protect millions of cats across the country and will be brought in alongside a range of other protections we are introducing under our Action Plan for Animal Welfare.”

Paul Hanaoka / Unsplash

Jacqui Cuff, Cats Protection’s Head of Advocacy and Government Relations, also stressed the importance of microchipping, adding: “Every day, we see how important microchipping is for cats and for the people who love them.

“Whether it’s reuniting a lost cat with their owner, identifying an injured cat, or helping to ensure an owner can be informed in the sad event that their cat has been hit and killed by a car.

“Microchipping is by far the most effective and quickest way of identifying lost cats and can help ease the pressure on rescue charities like Cats Protection. Without a microchip, a lost cat will most likely end up being rehomed to a new home as there is often no trace of their original owner.”

The new rules, which have been announced as part of the government’s ‘Action Plan for Animal Welfare’, won’t come into place until an official review has been completed.

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Chill Factore forced to close after section of roof damaged by Storm Barra

Major damage to the roof has forced the popular attraction to close

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@stefm84 / Twitter

The Chill Factore has been forced to close after a section of its roof was damaged from severe winds brought on by Storm Barra. 

All activities at the Beyond building, which houses an indoor ski slope, have been cancelled for the rest of the day, with car parks surrounding the Trafford attraction closing ‘with immediate effect’. 

In a statement on its website, Chill Factore said: “The Beyond building has sustained some damage due to the severe winds.

“As a result we’ve made the difficult decision to close our building and surrounding car parks with immediate effect to protect the health and safety of our guests and team.

“All activities for the remainder of the day have been cancelled and we are in the process of contacting guests with bookings for today to rearrange their activities.

“We are awaiting contractors to come and assess the damage and we will provide more information as soon as possible through our website & social media accounts.”

This comes after the Met Office issued a yellow weather warning in various areas across Greater Manchester ahead of the arrival of Storm Barra.

@adventurecat__ / Instagram

The second named storm of the season hit the region today, bringing with it plummeting temperatures plummeting and heavy rainfall.

Forecasters say travel disruption is ‘likely’, especially over higher routes, as is delays to rail and air travel. There is also the ‘slight chance some rural communities may become cut off’. 

The Met Office said: “A deep area of low pressure moving in across the UK from the Atlantic is likely to bring high winds to many parts of the UK.

“Strong winds arriving into the west through the morning, spreading inland and reaching eastern areas through the afternoon and early evening. Gusts of 45-50 mph are expected widely, with 60-70 mph in exposed coastal locations.

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People who kill children will face mandatory life sentences under new Arthur’s Law

The law has been named after six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, who was murdered by his stepmother last year

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@BorisJohnson / Twitter

The Prime Minister has backed a newly proposed law that will ensure child murderers will never leave prison.

Following the horrifying death of six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, Boris Johnson has announced that his government will be amending the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to make ‘whole-life orders the starting point for such abhorrent crimes’. 

Johnson said in a statement: “Anyone who plans then carries out the murder of a child should never be released from prison. So we’re toughening the law to make whole-life orders the starting point for such abhorrent crimes.

“The Attorney General is also urgently considering the facts of this case and the sentence handed down, but this is a Government that will always legislate for the toughest possible sentences for such repugnant crimes.”

Arthur’s stepmother Emma Tustin was jailed last week for at least twenty-nine years for his murder, while his father Thomas Hughes was sentenced to twenty-one years for manslaughter.

However, the attorney general announced over the weekend that the sentences are to be reviewed to ‘determine whether they were too low’. 

According to The Guardian, the AGO has twenty-eight days from the date of sentence to review a case, assess whether it falls under the Unduly Lenient Sentence (ULS) scheme and make a decision as to whether to refer a sentence to the court of appeal. 

West Midlands Police

Arthur died in Solihull, Midlands on June 16th 2020, as a result of a serious head injury inflicted by Tustin. His body was also covered in 130 bruises.

It was later discovered that the six-year-old had been starved, beaten and poisoned with salt in the weeks leading to his death.

Harrowing footage recently released by West Midlands Police show a weak and emancipated Arthur struggling to lift his duvet from the living room floor, where he had been forced to sleep. 

Social worker and member of the House of Lords Herbert Laming said the reduction in funding for social care in the last ten years meant abused and neglected children like Arthur were being missed by the authorities. 

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