Schools 'inundated' with requests from key worker parents

Lancashire schools face a high turnout of children of key workers and vulnerable pupils onsite amid the national lockdown in England, with parents left worrying about childcare and their jobs.

By James Holt
Friday, 8th January 2021, 4:41 pm
Updated Friday, 8th January 2021, 4:44 pm

The Prime Minister announced on Monday, January 4, that all pupils – except the children of key workers and vulnerable pupils – would move to remote education until February half-term.

And now schools in Lancashire are facing parents requesting that their child attends in-person classes instead of learning from home.

Philip Davenport, an Ingol single dad-of-two, is classed as a key worker through his work at Covid testing facilities and for the local government in public services.

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Pupils at Priory Academy who have key worker parents are learning in school

But his daughter's school, Pool House Primary, had originally closed to all students, even those who have key worker parents, before changing their decision to reopoen again on January 8.

He said: "It has been so difficult, I took my children back to school on Monday only to hear that the government have closed schools again. We were then told by the school that they won't be opening due to staffing issues and that we couldn't contact them about anything other than the curriculum.

"I am a full-time dad and work all day and evenings with little support, it is my family I need to rely on when I am at work to pick up my children from school which puts me in an awkward position.

"I have been given special leave but once that ends, if my daughters couldn't go to school, I may have to end up leaving my job to look after them. My only other option is to combine all of my weekly hours into four days, which doesn't help.

School children remain in bubbles for their learning to curb Covid-19 spreading

"It gives us no options and is so difficult for parents. I have now sent the school letters proving my key worker status."

In a letter sent out to parents on January 5, following the government u-turn, Pool House said that remote learning was in place for all students via their website

It also read: "We will not be running a key worker facility. The reason for this is because of a lack of staffing and we are also currently following union guidance."

Classes at Kingsfold Primary School, Martin Field Road, are currently running at 25 per cent of their usual capacity to meet Covid-19 safety guidelines required in schools.

Priory Academy, in Penwortham

Mrs Kellie Tierney, headteacher of the Penwortham school said: "The classes filled up quickly, as we were inundated with requests. Our first priority was to offer places to the most vulnerable pupils.

"Having completed a full risk assessment after having discussions with staff and governors, we have chosen to keep numbers manageable to allow for adequate distancing.

"We have kept the classes in their previous bubbles, supported by their usual staff to ensure consistency for the children who are accessing learning at home and at school.

"Having gained parental feedback from the last lockdown, some parents have opted for paper-based learning following a published scheme as they struggle to provide access to devices all of the time.

Millions of children across the country are currently learning from home

At Penwortham Priory Academy, the majority of pupils remain working from home, with 97 per cent attendance on their first day of remote learning yesterday.

And for those classed as vulnerable, paper packs of work have been prepared for the parents to pick up from the school once a week.

Deputy Head Teacher Lisa Cowell told The Post that the positive feedback from parents has shown their lockdown strategy is a success, whilst a small percentage of children of key workers and the most vulnerable other pupils remain in school.

She said: “We prepared for another lockdown before Christmas, sending teachers home with laptops and microphone headsets and so we had everything in place despite the arrangements changing quickly.

“The children in school are accessing the same lessons at the same time so everyone is getting exactly the same education whether in school or out of school.

“For those pupils who don’t have laptops or wifi at home, teachers in every subject have prepared a paper pack which parents pick up once a week but we are hopeful that all children will be on-line in the near future.

“The feedback has been positive so far. Parents have contacted us saying what we have put in place is working well. It's the closest thing to children being in school, but at home, which is what we want to hear."

"I would like to personally thank the staff for all of their hard work and dedication since we started on this journey as it certainly has not been an easy one."

Steve Chalke, founder of Oasis Charitable Trust, which has 53 schools across England, said heads were preparing for a greater number of pupils to turn-up to school on January 6, than in the lockdown in March, as more children were classed as vulnerable and more parents who were key workers wanted a place.

The Government guidance now says vulnerable children may also include pupils who have difficulty engaging with remote education at home, which could be due to a lack of devices or quiet space to study.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) was also hearing from school leaders that more parents who were classed as critical workers were wanting to take up places during the lockdown.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at ASCL, said: “The kind of indication that we’re getting is that more key workers are asking to take up those places than happened in the first lockdown.

“Obviously, schools are wanting to do what they can for those children and the vulnerable children as well, but some concerns that we’re starting to hear from some of our members are about the number of pupils they might end up with onsite.

“Some are saying – particularly in the more deprived areas – if all the children took up their offer of a place they might end up with 50, 60 or 70 per cent of their students onsite.”