As children returned following the Christmas holiday, the country’s largest teaching union, the NASUWT, had expressed their concern at the capacity of some schools to operate due to rocketing Covid rates and the potential number of staff either ill with the virus or having to self-isolate.
After mixing over the festive period, there were also concerns about the prevalence of Covid amongst school children.
It appears some of those fears have materialised with South Tyneside Council today (January 13) confirming a temporary return to remote learning for some pupils at some schools which are struggling to cope.
A Council spokesman said: "We are receiving high levels of both staff and pupils testing positive for Covid or having to self-isolate. As a result, schools in the Borough are struggling to maintain business continuity.
"Some year groups and classes are having to be sent home because of a lack of staff and the inability to secure supply staff.”
The news will come as no surprise to NASUWT North East National Executive John Hall who commenting on the situation earlier this week said: “The Government expect education to flow normally but there will inevitably be a pinch point at which staffing in schools will reach a critical level at which education will need to return to some form of remote learning with students possibly attending on a rota basis for face to face teaching.
“Many schools can’t get supply staff and if you can’t get enough staff to legitimately cover a timetable then you have to question whether they are safe to be fully open.”
It’s certainly not a situation which is unique to South Tyneside, with the most recently published Government data showing that on January 6, an estimated 8.6 per cent of teachers and school leaders were absent from open schools – around one in 12 teaching staff.
The Council spokesman added: "This is a situation which is being mirrored across the country. We appreciate these are challenging times for everyone and would like to thank students, parents and carers for their understanding and their support in continuing to test.
"We would also like to thank our family of schools for their ongoing efforts. Our school communities have done, and continue to do, an outstanding job in delivering education to our young people in the most difficult of circumstances."
The Government has defended the measures put in place to minimise disruption for returning students.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Schools are working tirelessly to ensure classrooms are safe for face-to-face learning, because together we want to help keep young people in the classroom.
“We are helping conduct mass testing, bringing in supply staff and increasing ventilation support with CO2 monitors and air purifiers, while there will be no Ofsted inspections while testing is happening. Combined with the hard work of schools and teachers, we are confident that our measures will maximise classroom time for students.”