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Nadhim Zahawi calls for retired and ex-teachers to return to school in order to ease Covid pressures – Sector reaction

Nadhim Calls Retired Teachers 1200

The Government is asking former teachers who have the skills and time to return to the classroom to sign up from today, Monday 20 December.

Former teachers asked to come forward to support schools and colleges to manage staff absence in the new year

Omicron expected to cause increased staff absence levels in the spring term, with ex-teachers needed to expand the numbers of supply staff across the country

We must make sure schools and colleges have the teachers available to remain open for face-to-face education

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi

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.

It remains important the same comprehensive checks go ahead as they always would for anyone working with children. Potential teachers are therefore encouraged to get the process started as soon as possible and ideally before Christmas Eve to be ready to join the workforce from January.

Those who are recently retired, or trained as a teacher and moved career, are asked to consider whether they can find even a day a week for the spring term to help protect face-to-face education.

Targeted communications will begin to go out from today across a range of government, stakeholder and direct channels to encourage those eligible to apply.

Nadhim Zahawi, Education Secretary

Education Secretary Nadhim 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.”

Russell Hobby, CEO, Teach First

Russell Hobby, CEO of Teach First said:

“Teachers have gone above and beyond throughout the pandemic, doing an inspirational job to support their pupils and communities in the face of adversity. Yet the disruption to school life and extended periods at home mean pupils’ education has inevitably suffered, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.  

“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.”

Supply teacher agencies will help make sure schools and colleges do not need to close as a result of lack of staff

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.

Former teachers are encouraged to approach those agencies identified on the sign up page as being registered on the Government’s framework. This guarantees fair business practices and the agency’s support in completing pre-employment checks to ensure they can be placed in schools and colleges as soon as possible, but those eligible can approach any agency they prefer.

The Government is providing social media and communications support to schools and colleges, trusts, local authorities, teaching unions, supply teacher agencies, and sector organisations such as Teach First to help them engage with their networks and contact databases to reach those who are most likely to be able to answer the Education Secretary’s call.

The Government will also be working to reach former teachers through its own communications channels, including through Get Into Teaching, the Teacher Pension Scheme and internet search advertising.

Department for Education staff eligible to come forward will be released to do so, as long as they are not working on the Department’s own covid response.

The Disclosure and Barring Service has confirmed it will be ready to meet any spikes in demand for its service, continuing to meet its current turnaround times of 80% of Enhanced Checks issued within 14 days, of which 30% are issued within a day.

The Government is also working with Teach First to explore how those of their alumni who have trained as teachers but currently work outside the profession could make a temporary return to the classroom to support the resilience of the wider school workforce in the new year.

Many areas are also facing pressures with high absence among social care staff. A temporary register was set up in March 2020 during the first peak of the pandemic to support former social workers to return to frontline practice. 

Any social worker who left the profession in the previous two years, fit to practise and had not opted out was automatically added. Those individuals who remain on the temporary register are encouraged to contact their local authority children’s social care team or sign up with a local agency if they can support at this time.

It remains vital for everyone to get their primary and booster vaccination doses as soon as possible to help stem the spread of Omicron, reducing the number of absences faced by schools and across education in the New Year.

Government plans to boost teacher supply capacity by asking ex-teachers to join supply agencies

16th Dec 2021: Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi emails headteachers saying the government will try to encourage retired teachers to consider returning to help with staff shortages and keep schools open, in order to ease Covid pressures

@NEUnion, @NAHTnews and @ASCL_UK and @StephenMorganMP respond to the Education Secretary @nadhimzahawi’s Call to Retired Teachers

Kevin Courtney 750x570

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“Of course we support measures that could help to reduce education disruption. With this call for retired teachers to come forward the government is admitting they are assuming there will be substantial disruption of education in January.

“It is important to say that this disruption is likely to be made worse because of the government’s failure to put in place the mitigations and safety measures we have been calling for – on ventilation, air filtration, mask wearing and isolation of very close contacts.

“We still need those mitigations to be put in place – even to help with the effort of recruitment of temporary retired staff. Some of these older colleagues will be concerned about their chance of contracting Covid and better mitigations will be necessary to reassure them.

“We are also extremely concerned about the proposal to recruit these retired staff through teacher supply agencies which rake off scarce funds from schools to maximise their profits whilst minimising the pay they offer supply teachers. That is not the right way to behave in response to a national call to arms.

“Northern Ireland and Scotland have much better systems for employment of supply staff and these could be stood up quickly in England if there were sufficient political will. Local authorities are well placed to scale up or create pools of supply.”

Paul Whiteman

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“There is no doubt that there has been a shortage of supply staff available in recent months. This has placed an added pressure on schools and it looks like things are about to get worse rather than better.

“Of course, given the current situation, it would be helpful if there were more suitably qualified teachers available with recent relevant experience and with the appropriate safeguarding checks.

“However, this proposal does raise a whole host of important questions that will need answering urgently. Ultimately, it must remain the case that school leaders decide who has the appropriate expertise and qualifications to teach classes in their schools. 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 could find themselves operating under.

“We also need to be very clear that if things get to this stage, it will mean that education will look very different in January and this is sending a clear signal that 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.”

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“The government is right to identify staff shortages as a critical issue for schools as we head into a very uncertain time in which the Omicron variant of Covid-19 is likely to further drive up levels of teacher absence. Put simply, schools cannot operate without teachers.

“We support anything which may help to address this problem and we hope that the government’s call to ex-teachers to join supply agencies improves a situation in which many schools have been experiencing problems in obtaining supply cover because of the high level of demand.

“However, this is all coming very late in the day for a situation which is already critical and has been so for some time, and the initiative will need to be well publicised, promoted and supported in order to have any degree of success.

“It is also important to emphasise that even then it is very unlikely to be enough to solve a problem at such a scale as this, and the government does need to do much more in terms of supporting control measures, such as testing and ventilation, in order to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus.”

Stephen Morgan MP, Labour’s Shadow Schools Minister, said:

“This is a sticking plaster, and only part of what’s needed to keep children and staff safely in class next term.

“The government’s failure to get a proper workforce plan in place leaves staff, children and parents relying on good will from retired staff and volunteers, many of whom face additional risks themselves.

“Ministers continue to fall short on delivering basic covid protections in schools. They should adopt Labour’s Christmas vaccine guarantee to ensure all eligible children can get their jab during the holidays. Government must also implement proper ventilation measures in schools, open windows and cold classrooms aren’t good enough for our children.”

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