Omicron has caused disruption in various aspects of society, not least of all in education; though it appears to be rendered miniscule by a reluctance to address the situation in detail, preventing the finding of a solution which may help ease mounting pressures on schools and colleges.
Within the first week of schools restarting following the Christmas break, 1 in 12 teachers have been recorded as absent as a result of the relatively uncontrolled COVID spike. To be precise, 4.9% (out of a figure of 8.6% of general absences) of teachers were absent due to being infected with the virus on the 11th of January this year, a 3% increase from December 16th, 2021 (as released by the Department of Education). Such a substantial increase in just over one month, coupled with its general trend of growth, paints a bleak future. To further show the severity of the situation, a contrast can also be made with the 1st of September 2021 where only 1% of teachers were absent due to COVID.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the association of school and college leaders, has voiced the thoughts of many, that the government has essentially underestimated the crippling effect COVID on our schools, a reliance on the winter holiday easing cases backfiring as, ‘any hope that the Christmas holidays would act as a firebreak for schools and colleges has evaporated’. This lack of care has, instead, worsened the predicament.
Worryingly, teaching standards are inevitably deteriorating- not only due to students being unable to receive face to face teaching from the teachers who are supposed to lead them through the school year and whose teaching style they are accustomed to, but also because of the strain on teachers that are not absent as many teachers are being forced to cover their missing colleagues’ lessons, resulting in tired, overworked teachers. 585 teachers have already volunteered to help cover shifts and ease the problem.
Though, as Paul Whiteman (General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers), has said, despite how ‘great’ it is to see teachers step up and volunteer, it is but a ‘drop in the ocean compared to the scale of the challenge faced’.
It is becoming progressively harder to obtain supply teachers to fill in gaps, as, as school leaders and supply teaching agencies, have validated demand for back up staff is outstripping supply. Students have started taking their schooling into their own hands, unable to rely on those that should be ensuring academic accessibility. The Oak National Academy, a resource for learning via the internet, has released data showing demand jumping from 40000 mid-December to 139000 users logging in last week.
In the wise words of Natalie Perera (Chief Executive of the Education Policy Institute), ‘we need to see education interventions that are well targeted to those areas most affected’ as acute staff shortages are likely to last for some time.
Written by Maya Hood
Research compiled by Joe Eastment