School staff were “very anxious” at the start of January in York – say education bosses, who have revealed the challenges of the start of term.
And schools have only been able to offer places to 70 per cent of pupils whose parents applied for a place during this lockdown as the list of jobs qualifying for key worker status was expanded. Teachers prioritised places for vulnerable children.
Teachers and support staff spent the Christmas holiday getting schools ready to carry out regular coronavirus testing only to find out on the first day of term that schools would close to all except the children of key workers and vulnerable pupils.
But schools were left without guidance on how to open to those pupils for the first week, including if class sizes should be limited as they were in the first lockdown.
A council report says: “The main reasons for schools being unable to offer places has been due to high levels of occupancy and concerns about the safety of going above 50% capacity.
“Where schools have had concerns about capacity due to space and having sufficient staff to deliver remote learning they have prioritised places for vulnerable children.”
Panic from parents
Maxine Squire, assistant director for education, said: “Because of the York context in early January, schools were a lot more anxious than they’d been in earlier stages.
“It had really come home that the cases were accelerating in York. It did create greater anxiety within the staff teams in schools and obviously that led to some schools having section 44 [notices raising concerns about safe working conditions] being put in around health and safety.
“It’s important to remember that our schools were operating as fully open between September and December, using control measures which were very successfully controlling the spread of the virus.”
She added: “In the first week there was a fair amount of panic from parents because they knew the [key worker roles] list had been broadened and they were looking for a school place.
“The education team were taking a fair number of inquiries. Schools were initially working to March 2020 operating procedures which was that class sizes should be capped, because when this lockdown came in there was an absence of guidance from the Department for Education and and that didn’t arrive until the end of that first week.”
York schools have been so successful at putting in safety measures that the public health team have confirmed no cases of transmission of the virus in schools.