Words: David Spereall
Some Leeds schools are being asked to stay open for more than two thirds of their overall pupils, despite the majority of parents being told to keep their kids at home.
Only vulnerable children or those whose parents are classed as critical workers are entitled to face-to-face learning in school under the new lockdown rules. The government says all other children should be educated remotely from home.
But local councillors have been told that teachers are being asked to take on far more children than they were catering for during the first lockdown last year, when the same rules applied.
A scrutiny meeting on Wednesday was told around 70 per cent of parents connected with one school had claimed to be key workers and requested their child be allowed to continue attending in person.
There are concerns that schools would struggle to juggle social distancing requiremements with remote teaching and accommodating that many pupils on the premises.
Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s executive member for learning, suggested a lack of clarity from the government was partly to blame.
Coun Pryor said:
“During the first lockdown, the numbers (of children going into school) were very small and staff could be worked on a rota basis.
“A huge number of workers were on furlough and therefore they kept their children at home.
“Now a lot of businesses are getting people back to work and they’re reluctant to furlough people again.
“Some of the messages coming from the government about whether or not you should be going to work or not are open to interpretation, because it’s “Work from home if you can”.
“A lot of businesses are making people still go to work which means a lot more children are being pushed into school. So this isn’t the same situation that we had last March.”
The meeting was told that some confusion may originate from government guidance that pupils with one key worker parent could remain in school, even if they have another parent who is at home.
Saleem Tariq, the council’s director for children and families, suggested lockdown fatigue could also be a factor behind the numbers.
“We are many months into this and people have had two previous periods of lockdown. Children want to be back in school.
“I think parents’ general tolerance for being able to home school plays into that as well. More of them want their children to be in school.