Schools In England Struggle To Stay Open As Coronavirus Hits Attendance
Schools in England are currently struggling to continue providing education as staff and students are unable to attend due to the coronavirus outbreak. The UK, along with Belarus, is one of only two European countries that have not closed their schools. Some schools have had to close fully or partially due to staff shortages, while others are in the process of considering the same. Schools in London have been particularly affected by the decrease in attendance, with some schools seeing staff absenteeism rates of 20% or higher. These schools are struggling to cope with the situation as the Department for Education has not provided adequate guidance for addressing staff shortages. Independent schools such as Westminster School and City of London Girls School have opted to close their classrooms and move to online teaching temporarily. Other schools have developed contingency plans in the event of closure, with some pledging to continue providing meals for underprivileged children. Critics have pointed out that countries such as Singapore and Taiwan are considering or have already closed their schools, despite the UK’s continued policy of keeping them open.
Chris Dyson, the head of Parklands Primary School located in Leeds, affirmed that their school’s kitchen would continue providing free lunches to primary age children who are eligible for free meals. Dyson mentioned that parents would come to the school to collect takeaway lunches, and the school served as a central hub, cooking for other schools in Leeds as well. Currently, around 80% of the children at Parklands benefit from free school meals.
The Department for Education (DfE) made an announcement that regular inspections by the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) across schools, colleges, and social care centers across England would be temporarily halted. This decision aligns with similar ones made in Scotland and Wales. Amanda Spielman, the Chief Inspector of Schools in England, opined that it’s the right decision, especially considering the pressure teachers and social workers are currently under due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Recently, the National Education Union addressed a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, urging him to order at least some school closures in recognition of the staffing difficulties engendered by his policies. The General Secretaries of the NEU expressed their concern over the government’s decision not to release modelling that compared various scenarios of school closures. Given this situation, they called for partial school closures, at least for some time and in specific areas.