Retired and former teachers across the UK are now being urged to return to the classroom in the new year in a bid to help with staff shortages due to the rise in COVID-19 cases.
As the Omicron variant is expected to continue to cause “increased staff absence levels in the spring term”, the Department for Education (DfE) and Education Secretary has issued a plea today asking recently-retired teachers, or those who trained as teachers and changed career, to return to the classroom temporarily “to help protect face-to-face education”.
The government believes some local areas may “struggle to find sufficient numbers of supply teachers available”, unless former staff come forward to help.
The appeal comes as it’s being reported that some schools are already preparing for the possibility of online teaching next term, and even have told pupils to take laptops home in case of disruption after Christmas.
The Education Secretary has urged ex-teachers who are available to return to the classroom, to apply on the Get Into Teaching website.
In the plea issued by the government, it’s said that it “remains important” that the same comprehensive checks go ahead as they always would for anyone working with children, which is why potential teachers are being encouraged to get the process started as soon as possible.
They should ideally start the process before Christmas Eve to be ready to join the workforce from January.
“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,” Mr Zahawi said.
“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.”
He also added at the end of his plea that “everyone should get boosted now to help reduce the amount of disruption from the virus in the new year.
The government says that supply teacher agencies across the country will continue to manage local supply and demand to help make sure schools and colleges do not need to close as a result of lack of staff, and so from today, those eligible can expect to receive targeted communications encouraging them to participate.
The DfE is helping schools, unions, and supply teacher agencies to reach potential teachers through social media and other communication channels.
The government is also working with the teacher training programme provider Teach First for the mission to get former teachers back on board, with the company’s Chief Executive, Russell Hobby, adding: “Given the challenges that schools now face, we want to see what more can be done to help – including how we, and those of our alumni who have trained as teachers but currently work outside the profession, may be able to support schools to remain open safely in the new year.”
Former teachers should approach supply teacher agencies listed on the website, the government says, as they will manage local supply.
However, the launch of the appeal has not been received too well by some education unions and opposition parties.
Paul Whiteman – General Secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT – said: “Having a greater number of supply teachers to call upon could be helpful, but it will not take away from the very challenging circumstances schools find themselves operating under.
“We need to be very clear that if things get to this stage, it will mean that education will look very different in January and we could be talking about a very different type of provision at the start of next year.
“That has huge implications for things like exams, assessment and inspection.”
While shadow Schools Minister Stephen Morgan added: “This is a sticking plaster, and only part of what’s needed to keep children and staff safely in class next term.
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