By James Harrison | LDRS

Some of Sunderland’s schools are as full as they were before Christmas, despite the latest national coronavirus lockdown.

New ‘Stay at Home’ guidance announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week (Monday, January 4) saw pupils told to learn remotely from home until February at least.

But with schools remaining open for the children of critical workers, or those deemed vulnerable, many teachers have found themselves busier than they were last year (2020) having to provide lessons in classrooms and online.

“The Department for Education (DfE) has significantly broadened the criteria of a vulnerable child to include any child without access to a device and any child which does not have a quiet space to work in,” said Jill Colbert, Sunderland City Council’s director of children’s services.

“Arguably, given some of the housing environments some of our children live in, in some of the [city] wards, that could be all children attending a primary school.”

Colbert was speaking at last week’s (Thursday, January 7) meeting of the city council’s Children, Education and Skills Scrutiny Committee.

As well as changes to the definition of vulnerable children, criteria for ‘critical workers’ has also been widened, further adding to numbers seeking spots in classrooms
Government guidance allows children with one parent classes as a critical worker to attend school or college ‘if required’.

As well as health and social care workers, this also includes staff in at least nine other sectors, such as utilities, transport and finance.

The committee heard this was placing extra pressure on schools, which are required to provide lessons online and face to face, while also dealing with staff shortages.

“We’re public servants, we want to support critical workers, but if you look at the [critical worker] definition now it’s harder to find someone who doesn’t fit the list than who does,” Ann Blakey, headteacher at St Benet’s RC Primary School, told the panel.

“People are scared, mass gatherings are cancelled everywhere, but I can have a full school of about 200-220 people.

“That would worry any community in this current situation, but we’re not shying away, we’re just worried.”