Government pledges to help former teachers get back in schools amid Covid staff absences

‘We want to make sure that as many supply staff as possible are available to schools and colleges’

Zoe Tidman
Thursday 16 December 2021 22:56
<p>Nadhim Zahawi says the government will help former teachers to register for supply agencies</p>

Nadhim Zahawi says the government will help former teachers to register for supply agencies

The government will help former teachers to get back in schools to support those facing staff absences, the education secretary has said.

In a letter to headteachers, Nadhim Zahawi said the Department for Education (DfE) would help ex-teachers to register with supply agencies in a bid to boost the number of temporary staff available.

The Covid pandemic has already seen former NHS staff return to work to help the service in its fight against the virus.

Headteachers have also told The Independent staff absences were the biggest threat to keeping schools open in January.

In his letter to schools published on Thursday, Mr Zahawi said: “We know that in areas with high absence, a particular issue can be the availability of supply staff.”

The education secretary added: “We want to make sure that as many supply staff as possible are available to schools and colleges. That is why we are now looking at what steps and measures we can put in place to boost supply capacity.”

He said the DfE would work with supply agencies and sector leaders to offer advice to former teachers who want to return.

“We will help them to register with supply agencies as the best way to boost the temporary workforce available to the sector,” he said.

The education secretary added: “From now, you can support this effort by using your own professional and personal networks to encourage others to sign up to offer temporary help.”

Geoff Barton, of the Association for School and College Leaders, said the education union “supports anything which may help to address” the problem of staff shortages.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

He added: “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.”

Meanwhile, Labour called the move a “a sticking plaster”, saying it was “only part of what’s needed to keep children and staff safely in class next term”.

Stephen Morgan, the shadow schools minister, said: “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.”

On Wednesday, the chair of the education select committee, Tory MP Robert Halfon, raised the idea of bringing retired teachers back into the workforce to help ease staffing pressures.

“There’s a nationwide campaign for an army of NHS volunteers but not for education,” he told parliament.

“Why is a similar army of retired teachers or Ofsted inspectors not being recruited to support schools struggling to cope with staffing requirements?”

According to the latest government figures, an estimated 2.4 per cent of teachers were not in school last Thursday due to a Covid-related reason.

Most of these – 1.7 per cent of teachers and school leaders in England – were absent from open schools due to a confirmed case of Covid.

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