Schools offer to stay open until 9.30pm to support key workers

Schools in one region are offering to operate between 6am and 9.30pm to provide care for children of key workers as “pressure ramps up” during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Across Stoke-on-Trent, 10 of the city’s 100 schools have lengthened their opening hours from today to provide safe care for children of NHS workers, firefighters and police. 

Staff who volunteered to work during the Easter holidays in the region’s schools are also being paid £20 per hour on top of their normal salary. This seems different to most other schools, which have organised staff to work on a rota basis with no extra pay.

Carl Ward, chairman of the city’s joint education planning group, explained the schools’ opening hours are informed by demand – with 6am to 9.30pm a guideline for when the schools could provide care if needed. 

“We contacted the local NHS trusts of which there are two in Stoke, plus the police and fire brigade, and we found out what their shift patterns were and when they would need handover”, Ward said. 

Ward, who is also chief executive of City Learning Trust (CST), explained teachers in those schools will operate in shift patterns which mirror the NHS to ensure care is provided when required. 

He said: “There is no parent across Stoke-on-Trent, in terms of key workers, that is without provision over Easter.”

The extra £20 per hour will be paid by each individual school in line with normal rates for staff working during summer schools.

Ward said it was “only fair” staff were paid extra for their time and as schools would only need to pay around four staff a day costs would be kept to a minimum.

The planning group agreed on the extra pay following the government’s announcement any extra costs incurred by schools during the crisis would be able to be claimed back.

However, Ward said the guidance is vague and even if schools are unable to claim back the extra cash “it was still the right thing to do”.

The initiative was drawn up as part of the planning group’s emergency plan – which also sets out eight strategically positioned ‘hub’ schools where pupils could be taught if too many teachers are struck down by coronavirus.

Data is collected each day by the planning group to track the number of pupils attending schools and locations which may require additional support. 

Since schools were shut down to all but children of key workers and vulnerable pupils, 95 schools have remained open catering to an average of around three pupils. 

Ward said around 600 pupils attended school last week – 220 of which were children of key workers. 

As the schools begin to operate outside normal hours the chairman said he would be “very shocked if there weren’t schools doing the same across the country in some way”.

He said: “I think you will likely see this as pressure ramps up.”

Ward provided anecdotes of single parents working in the emergency services who have “no choice but to bring their children to school” and said teachers wanted to “step up to the mark so they can go to work and not have to worry about it”.

“The support from teachers and education leaders in the city has been fantastic – everyone is just trying to do their best.”

Kevin Courtney, NEU joint general secretary, said schools are “going the extra mile to get our society through this crisis”.

But he said for schools to “keep open and to continue providing this vital service for the children of key workers, the safety of head teachers, teachers and support staff also needs to be carefully considered”.

While the additional hours were initially introduced for the Easter break, Ward said the system could be kept in place going forward depending on the need. 

The extended hours are being offered at all four of City Learning Trust’s schools, but the number of pupils requiring support varies from each site. 

At Haywood Academy, 12 pupils are attending school today, while just two pupils are at Trentham Academy. 

Ward added: “We were advised that the peak is coming over Easter weekend and beyond – that’s why it has been so important to get this emergency plan in place. 

“We have to work together to get through this.”