Homeschooling could return if too many teachers are off sick with Covid

Children are heading back to school this week after the Christmas break (Picture: PA)

Children could be made to learn online at home once again amid fears too many teachers will be off work with Covid.

Boris Johnson has tasked ministers with developing ‘robust contingency plans’ for staff absences – but it’s feared too much of the teaching workforce will still be isolating when the new term starts this week.

Extra Covid safety measures are in place, including the return of masks for secondary students in classrooms, yet principals may have to trigger home-schooling plans.

‘It is very likely that some schools could have teachers off isolating so we are trying to figure out the best way to keep children in schools,’ a Whitehall source told the Mirror.

‘If all of those aren’t possible, then some year groups or classes may have to go online but we are hoping this will be for literally only days.’

It comes as a further 137,583 lab-confirmed Covid cases were recorded in England and Wales yesterday – the highest number ever reported on a Sunday.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi urged schools to do everything in their power to ‘protect face-to-face learning’, but he indicated some remote learning may need to take place.

All secondary schools have been asked to provide an on-site test for students ahead of their return to the classroom.

Staff shortages may force children back to online learning at home (Picture: AFP)

An additional 7,000 air cleaning units will be provided to schools, colleges and early years settings to improve ventilation in teaching spaces.

And 12 to 15-year-olds are being encouraged to get fully vaccinated with two jabs and 16 and 17-year-olds are now eligible for a booster dose.

Health minister Ed Argar said the Government was ‘doing the responsible and sensible thing’ by asking the public sector to prepare for a worst-case scenario of up to a quarter of staff off work.

This developing crisis is already being seen in the NHS, with hospitals in Lincolnshire declaring a ‘critical incident’ linked to ‘extreme and unprecedented’ staff shortages.

And in Wales, Swansea’s Morriston Hospital said it could provide only a ‘limited service’ in its emergency department over the Bank Holiday weekend owing to staffing pressures ‘worsened by Covid’.

Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, said staff were working ‘flat out’ and that the NHS was under ‘arguably more pressure’ compared with this time last year.

Ministers have said there is nothing in the data to suggest further restrictions will be needed imminently, but the Government is set to review its Plan B measures on Wednesday.

The regulations are not due to expire until January 26, but Downing Street said at the point they were announced in December that a review would take place three weeks after implementation.

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