DfE looks to ex-teachers to fill Covid staffing gaps

Leaders also asked to 'use their own networks to encourage sign-up'

Leaders also asked to 'use their own networks to encourage sign-up'

16 Dec 2021, 14:57

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The Department for Education is looking to former teachers to help fill Covid staffing shortages, with new guidance planned to boost supply staff numbers.

With new reported Covid cases hitting a record high on Wednesday as Omicron spreads, fears are growing over schools’ ability to cope when term resumes in January.

Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi has written to school and college leaders today setting out how they can help “manage the virus”, including urging them to reach out to former colleagues.

The message acknowledges the availability of supply staff is a “particular issue” in areas with high absences. The government is now considering new measures to “boost supply capacity”, Zahawi said.

“We will work with sector leaders and supply agencies over the coming days to offer advice to ex-teachers who want to provide support to schools and colleges.

“We will help them to register with supply agencies as the best way to boost the temporary workforce available to the sector.”

Zahawi said discussions had already begun between senior DfE officials and key stakeholders.

He also said leaders themselves could “support this effort” by using their own networks to “encourage others to sign up to offer temporary help”.

Discussions are also underway over sharing “best practice flexible curriculum delivery” for schools facing the most acute workforce problems.

The letter said take-up of the booster jab by staff and young people was “critical” too.

‘Unlikely to solve the problem’

Geoff Barton, general secretary of school leaders’ union ASCL, said it welcomed “anything which may help” tackle staff shortages.

But he warned it was “very late in the day” and the appeal would need to be “well publicised, promoted and supported”.

Barton added: “Even then it is very unlikely to be enough to solve a problem at such a scale as this.”

Dame Alison Peacock, chief executive of the Chartered College of Teaching, also said it would take “several weeks to ensure all safeguarding checks are in place” for such staff.

“These are weeks that school leaders do not have if they are to enjoy any form of break over Christmas.”

The government had already announced the extension of its Covid workforce fund earlier on Thursday, signalling worries over continued disruption well into the new year.

The fund, which schools can use to pay for supply staff or extra hours for part-time workers, will now be open until the February half-term.

Former chief inspector Michael Wilshaw was among the teachers taking up the call to return to classrooms in the first lockdown. But one recently retired teacher, speaking anonymously, said full classrooms were not safe for retirees.

Pressure on DfE to tackle staffing gaps

Ministers have come under increasing pressure to ramp up measures to prevent further partial school closures after refusing to guarantee classrooms will remain fully open.

Yesterday education select committee chair Robert Halfon raised an urgent question in the House of Commons over a lack of support for schools. He said the country seemed to be “moving sadly towards de facto school closures”.

He asked why there was a “nationwide campaign for an army of NHS volunteers, but not for education? Why is a similar army for retired teachers or Ofsted inspectors not being recruited to support schools struggling with staffing requirements?”

Some schools have already closed early for Christmas and dozens moved some classes online because of staffing problems, with teachers sick or isolating.

Attendance survey data on Wednesday showed staff absences jumping by 20 per cent in the past fortnight.

The DfE estimates that 2.4 per cent of teachers and school leaders were absent from open schools last Thursday, up from 2 per cent two weeks prior. Primary teachers were more likely to be absent due to Covid.

Barton said “many schools” had been experiencing problems securing supply staff because of high demand.

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  1. I wonder if slt could cover classes rather than just asking already tired classroom teachers to give up their ppa. It would go a long way to create good will. I’ve worked in schools where slt did all of the cover, current school very different, haven’t seen a member of slt on the cover list at all this year.

  2. Miss A Turner-Rhodes

    I think a huge issue will be having new teachers and teaching assistants in the next year or two and moving forward. I just finished my level 2 TA and wanted to do my level 3, nobody can get a placement at all. Not one school within a reasonable distance will take unpaid workers with DBS checks and level 2 qualifications. It’s going to have a huge long term effect not being able to get students placements.

  3. When someone has retired from teaching they are done and to think any differently shows a worrying level of ignorance about the reality of the profession. It will be a resounding no thanks from retired teachers. I’m nearly 60 am still in the profession and had planned to continue but it’s now looking like a big no thank you from me. It’s been hellish.