Shropshire schools surviving Covid teacher shortages by the skin of their teeth

Schools were today praised for keeping Omicron at bay and students in class.

It's hoped the masks in classrooms may be ditched soon as the number of cases finally starts to fall again
It's hoped the masks in classrooms may be ditched soon as the number of cases finally starts to fall again

New figures reveal the virus has had an impact on numbers, with one head saying her school was coping “by the skin of our teeth”.

But safety measures have managed to keep lessons on track.

And with figures showing the number of Omicron infections across Shropshire finally falling, there is hope students will soon be able to ditch their masks.

Telford & Wrekin Council said there was an eight per cent teacher absence recorded on January 12 at schools. The attendance rate on the day for pupils was 90 per cent.In the Shropshire Council area the pupil attendance level for primary schools was 92.2 per cent, and 88.4 per cent for secondary schools.

The picture painted by one multi academy trust was of an “amazing” office team having to get on the phones early each day to fill the daily reported teacher absences.

“We have 10 schools where we are doing a lot of juggling of people,” said Hayley Alldridge, of the Marches Academy Trust.

“We are getting through by the skin of our teeth each day. The supply situation is very difficult, some are worse than others, but we have been able to cover every day.

The government has been asking retired teachers to come back to the classroom. One of our teachers at Sir John Talbot’s retired in July but then came back.”

Despite concerns, absences have been jkept under control. On Tuesday this week 83 out of just under 5,000 students – 1.67 per cent – and 22 teachers from the 700 staff – 3.31 per cent – at the 10 Marches schools were off after testing positive for Covid. Other absences were caused by more normal winter coughs and colds at the schools

The Morda-based Marches Academy Trust runs the Sir John Talbot’s School, Whitchurch; The Marches School, Oswestry; The Grove School, Market Drayton; Woodlands School, Wem; Shrewsbury Academy; Tilstock CE Primary School; Lower Heath CE Primary School, Nr Whitchurch; Oakmeadow CE Primary School, Bayston Hill; Longlands Primary School, Market Drayton, and The Grange Primary School, Shrewsbury.

Concern is now turning to this weekend when people who picked up the virus may start to have symptoms.

Ms Alldridge is keeping her fingers crossed.

“It can take two weeks for symptoms to appear and this is the second weekend since the new year,” she said.

“We continue to monitor the situation and prepare. We are ready to change if lots of people go off. We are ready.”

Another trust said apart from a spike in cases at a Shrewsbury school this week the picture for them is “relatively positive” at the moment.

Dr Gill Eatough, chief executive of the Learning Community Trust, running schools in Telford and Wellington, said: “The number of children currently off school is lower than it was before Christmas, and in our mainstream schools we only have around three or four staff off at present.

"We did see a spike in cases at Severndale in Shrewsbury this week, however, with around 15 per cent of teachers affected – mainly our support staff.

"It’s a constantly changing picture – but hopefully with the changes to self-isolation regulations we are hopeful that staff can return more quickly if they have had negative tests over consecutive days," she said.

The Learning Community Trust has several secondary schools under its management including Hadley Learning Community, Ercall Wood and Charlton School in Telford, as well as primary schools such as Crudgington and Wrekin View in Wellington.

Across Shropshire as a whole the council says that the county is performing better than the national average when it comes to pupil attendance. They also say teacher absences are know to be higher than usual.

Councillor Kirstie Hurst-Knight, cabinet member for education, said: “Shropshire is performing better than the national average in terms of primary and secondary attendance levels.

As of Monday, January 10, the pupil attendance level for primary schools was 92.2 per cent, and 88.4 per cent for secondary schools.

“Because of the mix of maintained schools and academies in Shropshire, it is not possible to provide countywide figures on teacher absences. We are aware, however, that staff absences are higher than usual, as is the case across the country.

“Shropshire Council’s health protection cell is working closely with education settings to minimise the spread of COVID-19 and keep staff and students in school.”

In the south of the county, Paula Hearle, the headteacher of Ludlow CE School, said it has had five teachers off with Covid at one time. “We have a good relationship with local supply teachers,” she said.

Both the Marches Academy Trust and Ludlow School reported that cases are being picked up by twice weekly lateral flow tests and people affected have not been in school where they may have spread the virus around.

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