Schools left 'inundated' and struggling to cope in latest lockdown

There are pleas from the region's teachers for the children of critical workers to be homeschooled if possible, after some schools in our region reported twice the number of pupils attending compared to the first lockdown. Some are almost half full, leading to fears their official closure will be rendered pointless. 

Teaching unions are urging key workers to keep their children at home if they can. 

However, unions have stressed that this does NOT apply to vulnerable children or those with no access to internet. Teachers in Sunderland say they feel they are being forced to 'make things up as they go along' in response to changing Coronavirus restrictions.

Many schools were left scrambling to react, following the government's decision earlier this month to close schools and move towards remote learning.

But exemptions for children classed as 'vulnerable' or with a parent deemed a 'critical worker' has added to the burdens already on staff.

"We've had to make things up as we go along, not knowing exactly what we should do," said Ann Blakey, headteacher at St Benet's RC Primary School.

"We've been inundated with over 150 requests from critical workers and vulnerable children.''

We want to meet the needs of parents, but a teacher now has to do face to face learning as well as online learning, which is very difficult to do. If we had had the guidance before Christmas we would have been able to do it, I know things change all the time and it's not a blame game, but sometimes you can see things coming a mile off.

Ann Blakey, headteacher, St Benet's RC Primary School

Blakey was speaking at a meeting of the Sunderland City Council's Children, Education and Skills Scrutiny Committee, which was held by videolink and broadcast via YouTube.

As well as government u-turns on whether or not to keep schools open to all pupils, headteachers have also had to contend with broad guidelines on who they can continue to allow through the doors.

As well as children classed as 'vulnerable', a child whose parent is considered a 'critical worker' in more than a dozen sectors, including health and social care, is currently entitled to a spot in a classroom.

However, updated guidance from the Department for Education has urged parents and carers to 'keep their children at home if they can'.

 A Department for Education spokesperson said: "If critical workers can work from home and look after their children at the same time then they should do so.

"Otherwise, schools are open for the children of critical workers. We expect schools to work with families to ensure all critical worker children are given access to a place if this is required, to enable them to provide vital services. We encourage all vulnerable children to attend.

"The protective measures that schools have been following throughout the autumn terms remain in place to help protect staff and students, while the national lockdown helps reduce transmission in the wider community."