Almost half of teachers forced to cover for absent colleagues amid Covid schools chaos

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Almost half of teachers have been forced to cover for absent colleagues as remote learning hit its highest level since lockdown, a survey has found.

Almost one in four schools also admitted that staff absences due to Covid-19 were having a “major impact” on teaching.

The poll of 7,000 staff by NASUWT teaching union found that 46 per cent of teachers had been required to step in for colleagues who were off work due to coronavirus.

Just under a quarter (23 per cent) said staff absences due to Covid-19 were having a major impact on their school, while 61 per cent said they were having some impact.

Dr Patrick Roach, the general secretary of the NASUWT, warned that higher rates of staff absence were making “a very challenging situation much worse”, adding that teacher shortages were likely to rise.

Oak National Academy, which provides free learning resources and online lessons, said its weekly user figures last week reached 340,000 – the highest level since schools returned from closures in March 2021.

The virtual school, which began in April 2020, said it expects the numbers to grow as schools try to keep children learning despite Covid-related absences.

A headteachers’ union called the rise in demand for online lessons “ominous”, adding that the situation could “become worse”.

A poll by school leaders’ union NAHT, carried out last week, found 36 per cent of school leaders had more than 10 per cent of their total staff absent on the first day of term due to Covid-19.

Around four percent of school leaders had to send some classes or groups home, according to the survey.

Situation ‘may well become worse’

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “It is ominous if we are already seeing an increase in the number of teachers and pupils using online lessons because it suggests that there are a lot of children having to remain at home and learn remotely at a very early stage in the term…

“This is extremely demanding at a time when many schools are also likely to be facing high levels of staff absence because of Covid-19, and unfortunately the situation may well become worse before it becomes better because of the very high levels of infection in the general population.”

The Department for Education (DfE) is due to release its pupil and staff attendance figures for the start of term on Tuesday.

A DfE spokesman said it was supporting schools to continue in-class teaching and praised staff who were working “tirelessly” despite the challenging circumstances.

He added: “We’ve also asked schools to have contingency plans to maximise attendance and minimise disruption to learning, should they have high rates of staff absence, and are working with the sector to share case studies of flexible learning models to support the development of those plans.”

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