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Teachers told to combine classes to deal with Covid staff shortages as ministers mull over return to homeschooling

TEACHERS have been told to combine classes in a bid to deal with Covid-related staff shortages as ministers continue to mull over a return to homeschooling.

The Department of Education warned schools to begin preparing for a chaotic return on Sunday night ahead of students returning this week.

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Classes may be combined in a bid to overcome colossal staff shortages[/caption]

Headteachers have been told to use support staff to fill in, while merging classes and a return to online learning are also on the cards.

It comes after ministers discussed scrapping face-to-face learning again as a crippling number of Covid-related absences hit the teaching workforce.

Experts have urged Boris Johnson to slash isolation for those who test positive down to five days in a bid to secure teachers behind desks.

But a string of hugely positive studies show Omicron IS milder than other strains, with the first official UK report revealing the risk of hospitalisation is 50 to 70 per cent lower than with Delta.

Covid booster jabs protect against Omicron and offer the best chance to get through the pandemic, health officials have repeatedly said.

The Sun’s Jabs Army campaign is helping get the vital extra vaccines in Brits’ arms to ward off the need for any new restrictions.

The Department of Education told schools to pool together their resources as shortages threaten to wreak havoc on youngsters education’s once again.

The email, published by The Guardian, read: “You may wish to use existing teaching, temporary and support staff more flexibly where required to ensure your setting remains open, while ensuring that you continue to have appropriate support in place for pupils with [special education needs and disabilities].

“As pupils do not need to be kept in consistent groups, you may wish to consider combining classes.

“Where there is a need for remote education, live streaming is the preferred method for providing this wherever possible.”

The warnings were echoed by Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi who said teacher absences were a “possible challenge” for the new term.

In an open letter posted on Sunday, he said: “If operational challenges caused by workforce shortages in your setting make delivery of face-to-face teaching impossible, I would encourage you to consider ways to implement a flexible approach to learning.

“Flexible delivery involves utilising all your available teaching and non-teaching workforce to maximise on-site education for as many pupils as possible while you flexibly deliver provision either on-site or remotely to some pupils.”

He later told parents in a tweet that face-to-face learning would “continue to be the expected norm”.

The PM has been told to do all he can so that students don’t miss any more vital face-to-face learning due to staff isolating at home.

Ministers are now said to be weighing up a number of plans to ensure kids across the country face as little disruption as possible to their education.

NEW YEAR BUT REPEAT RULES

One Whitehall source told the Mirror: “We are just being practical.

“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.

“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.”

Some primary and secondary schools have already sent kids home armed with textbooks and laptops just in case poor staffing levels force them into a self-prescribed shutdown.

But Mr Johnson is fighting to keep schools open in England and declared children’s uninterrupted education a national priority.

The PM has rallied retired teachers to the classroom to fill the shortage caused by Omicron infections in an effort to keep face-to-face learning alive.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi announced pupils in secondary school in England will return to wearing masks in the classroom to help “maximise the number of children in schools”.

It will be the first time the rule will be in force in classrooms since last May – but it is already in place in Wales and Scotland.

The measures are being welcomed by education bosses, after many schools introduced their own rules around mask wearing in the run up to Christmas.

But chairman of the education select committee Robert Halfon raised concerns that masks could be damaging to children.

All students and staff are expected to be tested for the virus on day one of the spring term as planned after the Education Secretary secured millions of kits.

Zahawi delivered 28million test packs to schools between December 6 and 17, and a further 17.6million are to be sent out by January 14.



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