Schools are adopting a two-week half-term holiday in October for the ‘mental health’ of teachers – despite warnings that pupils need to catch up on lost time amid the Covid pandemic.
Nearly a third of multi-academy trusts and one in five local authorities now take a fortnight off in the autumn term, with headteachers saying they need the longer break for the ‘wellbeing’ of staff, according to analysis by The Telegraph.
A survey found that 31 out of 102 multi-academy trusts which operate secondary schools have a two-week half-term holiday in October, and among 149 local authorities, 30 are running the two-week autumn break, including three – Kent, Peterborough and Bromley – which are introducing it for the first time in 2022.
Schools can set their own holiday timetables, provided they maintain the statutory 190-day minimum for teaching. These days are made up elsewhere in the year by the local authorities and multi-academy trusts that moved to a two-week holiday model.
Family groups are calling the lengthening of the October half-term ‘baffling’ following the impact that coronavirus has had on schools.
Co-founder of the parent campaign group UsForThem, Molly Kingsley, said: ‘This is absolutely not the year to increase the number of days off school for pupils.
‘Children don’t need a break after six weeks when they have just had a summer holiday. It is baffling. It’s all very well having a two-week holiday for parents who can take another week off, but for working parents, many can’t do that.’
But Darren Gelder, executive principal at Grace Academy in Solihull, says the move to two-week breaks is becoming more popular among state schools – and it is important to consider that many teachers leave the profession because of burnout.
He said: ‘The rationale is quite simple. Without a two-week half-term break, one of the terms is likely to be eight weeks long and to be quite frank everyone is shattered.’
Shortly before Christmas, Education Secretary Nadim Zahawi had warned that schools would likely see disruption until Easter amid Omicron-sparked staff absences – as he issued a desperate call for qualified teachers to sign up to help.
A survey found that 31 out of 102 multi-academy trusts which operate secondary schools have a two-week half-term holiday in October, and among 149 local authorities, 30 are running the two-week autumn break, including three – Kent, Peterborough and Bromley – which are introducing it for the first time in 2022 (stock image)
Mr Gelder, who sits on the National Association of Headteachers’ executive committee, said his own school switched about five years ago, and staff valued the October half-term break as the ‘most important’ thing for their wellbeing.
When Nadhim Zahawi was made Education Secretary in September, Dame Rachel de Souza warned him that schools must never close again in future lockdowns.
Covid staffing crisis grips UK: Unions warn Omicron spread has left public services in a ‘perilous state’
Unions today warned Omicron has left public services in a ‘perilous state’ with recycling centres forced to close and bin collections under threat in London – while flights were grounded and trains cancelled.
Lewisham council announced its main recycling centre will be shut until Wednesday and black bin collections would be prioritised in the event of delays to recycling collections.
Nationwide, 6.8% of trains were cancelled yesterday, compared to an annual average of 2.9%, the Rail Delivery Group said. Trains in Warwickshire have been suspended ‘indefinitely’, affecting services between Leamington Spa, Nuneaton and Coventry.
More than 2,200 flights were scrapped globally yesterday, FlightAware tracking data shows, with Heathrow cancelling 60 flights on Sunday. Gatwick said it had only three cancellations out of 215 flights on Sunday, and none yesterday.
Currently, people with a positive Covid test must self-isolate at home for seven days, but today leading vaccines expert Professor Sir John Bell backed reducing this to five if they get the all-clear from lateral flow tests.
Sir John, the regius professor of medicine at Oxford University and a member of the Vaccines Taskforce, backed Boris Johnson’s refusal to toughen England’s Covid restrictions, saying that mass deaths and hospitalisations from the deadly disease are ‘history’.
Local government chiefs have said nationwide staff shortages are particularly acute in waste collection, as well as other areas including social care and child services.
Jon Richard, the assistant general secretary of Unison, the public services union, told the Guardian: ‘Key health, council, care and police services have so many staff off that lots are worried they will not be able to keep going.
‘That’s why extra measures to curb virus spread are of the utmost importance in the coming weeks. Years of cuts have left services with just enough staff to get by in normal times. Now Omicron has put paid to that, leaving services in a perilous state.’
‘The harms done of losing education are immense,’ England’s Children’s Commissioner said, revealing how her Big Ask survey of youngsters’ views found that ‘children like school’ and ‘realised how sitting in front of the computer is no proxy for being with a teacher’.
The watchdog said it was right in earlier lockdowns to close schools because this was what the science had dictated.
But she added: ‘I never want to see schools closed again. It’s really important.’
Concerns have already raised about the reopening of schools after the Christmas break, with Paul Whiteman, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers, warning some pupils could be sent home if there aren’t enough staff to teach them.
Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told the BBC that absences had reached at ‘unsustainable’ levels at some schools, with up to 25% of staff off in the week leading up to Christmas.
‘We don’t know what next week will look like. We’re not catastrophising that but we are saying we must have a sense of realism around this,’ he said.
Education Secretary Nadim Zahawi has warned that schools will likely see disruption until Easter as a rise in Omicron cases sparks a wave of staff absences.
Mr Zahawi issued a desperate call for qualified teachers to sign up to help, calling on qualified teachers – who left the profession or who pursued other careers – to apply on the Get Into Teaching website as soon as possible.
Schools have been experiencing low attendance from both teachers and pupils ahead of the winter break, and Department for Education (DfE) officials admitted yesterday that they expect Omicron to bring about high levels of staff absence throughout the spring term.
The Government is now asking retired teachers to ‘come forward and join the national mission’ amid fears that the number of teachers forced into self-isolation by the coronavirus variant could lead to school closures or entire year groups being sent home.
Education Secretary Mr Zahawi said: ‘It has been my absolute priority since day one in the role to do everything in my power to protect education – which is why today I am asking any teachers no longer in the profession to come forward if they are available to temporarily fill absences in the new year.
‘Although 99.9% of schools have consistently been open this term, with cases of Omicron increasing we must make sure schools and colleges have the teachers available to remain open for face-to-face education.
‘Anyone who thinks they can help should get the process started now on the Get Into Teaching website, and everyone should get boosted now to help reduce the amount of disruption from the virus in the new year.’
The DfE said in a statement: ‘The Omicron variant is expected to continue to cause increased staff absence levels in the spring term, and some local areas may struggle to find sufficient numbers of supply teachers available unless former staff come forward.’
Dr Nikki Kanani, Medical Director of Primary Care for NHS England and NHS Improvement, also called on teachers and school staff to get a Covid booster jab during the Christmas break.
The Government asked retired teachers to ‘come forward and join the national mission’ amid fears that the number of teachers forced into self-isolation by the coronavirus variant could lead to school closures or entire year groups being sent home (pictured: Nadim Zahawi)
Dr Kanani, a south east London GP, said: ‘We’re asking teachers to come forward during the school holidays to get protected before school starts again.
‘We have got pop-ups, we’ve got mobile units, we’re working with community and faith leaders to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to get this protection, so please come forward.’
The Department for Education (DfE) said in a press release that some local areas may struggle to find sufficient numbers of supply teachers available unless former staff come forward.
DfE staff eligible to come forward, who are not working on the Department’s own covid response, will be released to do so.
The Disclosure and Barring Service said it will be ready to meet ‘any spikes in demand for its service’.