05:26PM, Wednesday 03 March 2021
A headteacher in Slough is calling on coronavirus vaccines to be offered to all support staff to ensure schools can remain open when pupils return.
Primary and secondary schools will fully reopen to all students on Monday following a nine-week shut down due to the coronavirus crisis.
Schools such as Marish Primary School, in Langley, and Willow Primary School, Slough, have remained open for key worker families during the pandemic.
But executive headteacher Gill Denham told the Express she is concerned that many of her school staff are yet to be vaccinated ahead of the full re-opening next week.
She said: “My big concern is they haven’t immunised school staff and support staff.
“We’ve got 60 children with complex needs, you can’t socially distance and most of the staff who work with them are older ladies who are potentially quite vulnerable.”
Mrs Denham added that 20 per cent of support staff across both school sites have been affected by letters issued by the Government last month asking an extra 1.7 million people to shield from the virus until March 31.
“People think you need teachers to run a school but you actually need caretakers, kitchen staff and admin staff,” she said.
“The support staff have been very badly affected by the shielding letters and we’re going to be on a knife edge whether we can staff all the time.
“We’ll try not to but it might be we have to send children home, not because anyone is ill but because we cannot staff the school safely.”
Twice-weekly coronavirus tests are on offer to primary school staff across the country but the executive headteacher said take-up of lateral flow tests had been low at her schools.
She added the impacts of another lockdown have already been clear across her two schools with some children worried to leave their families, others regressing in their reading.
“A lot of children are a lot more overweight than they were when we shutdown. This has happened every lockdown and there’s a big problem around that and we’re going to have to make sure we do a lot of physical things,” she said.
Mrs Denham also called on the Government to reconsider how pupils are tested in exams over the coming years and warned of teacher burnout if Ofsted inspections and SATS exams return to primary schools in the next academic year.
She said: “Teachers are worn out and people are quite worried about coming back because of the stamina with all the normal stuff on top of COVID.
“This is the Government’s opportunity to think, do we really need to test primary children this way?
“Is there a better way forward than these tests? Otherwise, come September everyone is going to be terrified about tests and Ofsted again.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "The government is focused on saving lives and continue to follow the advice of the independent JCVI to vaccinate the most vulnerable first, based on age as the biggest factor determining mortality.
“We are grateful for the tireless efforts of all our key workers at this difficult time – they are doing everything they can to ensure vital services carry on.”
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