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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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Schools will not reopen after February half-term, Boris Johnson confirms

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Schools will not open after February half-term, the prime minister has confirmed.

Boris Johnson has announced that schools will not reopen after February half-term, but has promised a route out of lockdown.

The prime minister says ‘we don’t have enough data to judge the full effect of vaccines in blocking transmission’.

Adding: “What we do know is that we remain in a perilous situation.”

He goes onto explain that the government will be in a better position to chart a course out of lockdown by mid-February. 

A review and plan for taking the country out of lockdown can be expected when parliament is back from recess in the week commencing February 22nd. 

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Mr Johnson explained that the ‘first sign of normality’ will be schools returning, however, it will not be possible for this to happen immediately after the February half-term. 

He explains that if the vaccine target is hit by mid-February, and those groups developed immunity from the virus around March 8th, schools could reopen.

The prime minister acknowledged the ‘huge impact’ of school closures and pledged £300m of new money for tutoring and extra initiatives for summer schools.

Finishing his speech, the PM says: “As we inoculate more people hour by hour, this is the time to hold our nerve in the endgame in the battle against the virus.

“Our goal now must be to bide the extra weeks we need to immunise the most vulnerable and get this virus under control, so that together we can defeat this most wretched disease.”

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Teacher dies on her 25th birthday after contracting coronavirus

‘Claudia was very special, kind, caring and a dedicated teacher’

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Recently-qualified teacher Claudia Marsh died with coronavirus on her 25th birthday.

Claudia’s death has been described as ‘sudden and unexpected’ by the charity that helped her recover from an eating disorder a few years ago.

She had gone on to volunteer at the organisation, becoming a ‘beacon of hope’ for others. 

Her mother, Tina Marsh, said she was ‘very proud’ and ‘blown away’ by the number of tributes after Claudia died at Liverpool’s Royal University Hospital on Wednesday.

Posting on Facebook, Ms Marsh said Claudia was a ‘beautiful daughter and incredible sister’ who was selfless with her work at the Merseyside-based charities, Talking Eating Disorders (TEDS) and The Whitechapel Centre.

Her mother said: “She loved giving back to people less fortunate than herself.”

Founder of TEDS and family friend Leigh Best described the death as ‘heartbreaking’, adding: “Claudia was very special, kind, caring and a dedicated teacher.

“She supported countless families across the UK. Claudia made her own little packs to give out to others with eating disorders with positive affirmations.

“She was full of positivity, kindness and hope, and had a smile that would brighten up the whole room.”

The Whitechapel Centre also released a statement where they said staff were ‘devastated’, adding she would leave behind a ‘legacy of care, dedication and enthusiasm’.

Throughout the pandemic Claudia spent her time providing food and clothing to those who need it, the centre said, adding: “Claudia always put others before herself and her memory will live on through the impact and contribution she made to our organisation.

“She was instrumental in bringing together our volunteer community.”

Her mother has set up an online fundraising page for the two charities which has already raised £16,495.

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Opening schools is a national priority, government says

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Schools Minister, Nick Gibb told the commons that schools in England will be reopen ‘as soon as possible’. 

Responding to an urgent question brought by Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green, Mr Gibb said the government would ‘prioritise the reopening of schools as we begin the process of lifting lockdown restrictions’.

Ms Green went onto say that the government had ‘failed  to give parents, children and staff the credible plan they deserve’.

Adding: “We simply don’t know what the government’s plan is for school reopening – other than what we read in the newspapers,”

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“In recent days, we’ve had reports that the prime minister wants pupils back before Easter, the health secretary saying he wants pupils back after Easter, Public Health England saying overnight the primary schools are already safe to reopen – so which is it?

“What is the plan for full reopening? The schools minister mentioned some metrics but was vague about the required performance against them – can he give us some more clarity?”

Mr Gibb said it was the government’s ‘strong desire to reopen all schools, colleges and universities as soon as possible’.

“We are acutely aware of the damage to children’s education and development – particularly to the most disadvantaged pupils by being away from school and of the increased burdens placed on parents.

He added that the ‘government has been clear that education is a national priority’ throughout the pandemic.

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“We had worked hard to keep all schools, colleges and universities fully open but scientific advice we received in January meant we had no choice but to close schools and colleges to all but vulnerable children and the children of critical workers.

“And to restrict in-person teaching in university to those studying to be future critical workers.” He said. 

He added that there will be an announcement in the next few days as remote learning is no substitute for face-to-face learning. 

“We want to give two weeks’ notice so parents can make arrangement for the care of their children and we will be making announcements in the next few days.” He said.

Chairman of the education select committee, Robert Halfon, told Mr Gibb that parents and children were suffering.

“We need to get our schools open again sooner rather than later,” he said.

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