Headteacher in Street warns of staffing crisis as schools face high levels of sickness

A Somerset headteacher says schools are facing a staffing crisis because of sickness and a lack of applications for teaching jobs.

Brian Walton, from Brookside Academy in Street, says they feel abandoned now Covid restrictions have been lifted.

On Monday (April 4) there were eight staff members off sick at the school, but it has been as high as nearly twenty.

Brian said: "I've been a head for 17 years and I've never come across that feeling when you walk into school every day - 'Can I keep that class open? Can I get a supply teacher?'

"Probably the answer to that is no, you can't get a supply teacher. Staff are unwell, they are tired, they are keeping going and they're also becoming unwell with colds and, potentially, low levels of COVID."

Brian is determined to keep the school open - and it's clear parents don't want to go back to home-schooling.

One parent said: "It was just really hard. I have two kids, one in secondary school, one in this school, and it was just really hard."

Another at the school gates said: "I have four children under seven. So it was like - doing this with one, doing this for the other, doing this for the other."

With teachers working hard to help children catch up, the pressure is on, and it is not just schools suffering - Butterflies Day Nursery in Bridgwater is one of many facing a juggling act.

Butterflies Day Nursery has also struggled with staffing levels

Kia Newbury from the nursery said: "It's that knock on effect of having to bring staff from different rooms and sometimes the managers cover in numbers or the admissions even in cover numbers.

"It's just that knock on effect of where you need to get your staff from to cover ratio and keep children within the setting as well."

The Department for Education says nearly all schools have stayed open this term - but one former Somerset headteacher says the future is a huge concern with sickness and recruitment problems widespread among the places of education he now consults at.

Tony Sammon is an education consultant. He's found almost every institution is affected by the pressures.

He said: "Every school from secondaries to sixth forms to nurseries and early years. I think what it will lead to is long term mental and emotional health issues, not only for staff, but also for young people.

"And I think that the pressures on the system mean that at some point something's going to break."

In a statement, Somerset County Council said: "High case rates in our community continue to affect our educational staff, as well as other frontline services.

"In Somerset, some schools have taken a decision to move to remote learning in cases where there have been operational concerns due to staffing levels, and settings that are experiencing staff shortages should work through the systems set up with Somerset County Council to identify how appropriate provision can be put in place while keeping staffing arrangements as consistent as possible.

"We continue to ask all schools across Somerset to keep the local authority informed of staffing pressures and we are in regular communication with schools and school associations, well established internal processes are still available to schools to ensure timely support."