Headteachers beg parents to reconsider if they're a 'key worker'

Monday morning chaos at the closed school gates: ‘Overwhelmed’ headteachers beg parents to reconsider if they’re a ‘key worker’ as it emerges some are threatening to SUE schools that refuse to teach their children

  • Experts suggested two million pupils could attempt to attend school tomorrow
  • ID checks at gates to root out those parents falsely claiming to have ‘critical’ jobs
  • The move comes amid concerns that over-stretched teachers will be swamped
  • National Association of Headteachers has begged people not to ‘abuse’ system 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

Parents have today been urged to keep their children at home unless ‘absolutely necessary’ as schools were threatened with litigation after rejecting applications and the row over Boris Johnson’s ‘vague’ key workers list rumbled on.

Headteachers have been ‘overwhelmed’ with demand for emergency places with education experts estimating that two million pupils  – a quarter of the total UK school population – could be dropped off at the school gates today. 

The head of National Association of Headteachers, Paul Whiteman, said today: ‘We are getting reports of overwhelming demand for places. This was never the plan. The plan was always to care for the very few who have nowhere else to go to help halt the spread of the virus. My appeal to the parents of these children is that if you are a key worker and can have them looked after away from school please do so’.

Schools ordered to close for up to six months on Friday have been told to reopen today to care for children whose parents’ work is ‘critical’ to the fight against coronavirus, which has killed 281 in the UK so far. 

Teachers have been given the power to ask parents for ID and payslips to prove they are ‘key workers’ – amid fears that many will lie about their jobs so they can drop off their children. 

Unions have claims that parents working in fast food chains, such as McDonald’s, have been asking for a place in schools insisting they are ‘key workers’ using the Government’s ‘food distribution’ definition in its controversial guidance.

Geoff Barton, general secretary at Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘The list is rather more extensive than we expected. That has led to some difficult exchanges, with parents saying things like, ‘I work in McDonald’s so that is food production.’ If your school is near a big hospital, health workers’ children will be your priority.

‘Some school leaders have had letters from lawyers – that’s a sign of how the extensive nature of that list has set the hare running. Head teachers are already having to make quite difficult decisions without getting into disputes with parents who think a school place is their entitlement.’ 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC Breakfast today: ‘The most important message is if you don’t have to take your child to school, even if you’re a key worker, then you should not take your child to school’. 

Millions of children are predicted to turn up at school today despite a plea from headteachers to keep them at home unless it is unavoidable

Paul Whiteman, head of the National Association of Headteachers, has said that schools cannot cope and begged people not to abuse the key worker system amid claims McDonald’s staff have asked for places

Year 11 pupils, some with graffiti-covered shirts reading ‘Survivor 2020’ and ‘Class of Corona 2020’ leave a secondary school in Odiham, Hampshire on Friday

Schools across Britain shut to most pupils on Friday. But headmasters predict a meltdown after experts suggested two million pupils could attempt to attend school today.

The Government has set out its key worker definition to battle coronavirus – but many believe it is too vague and is leaving many schools and parents confused about who is eligible

Checks at the gates will root out those parents falsely claiming to have jobs ‘critical’ to the country’s coronavirus response.

The move comes amid concerns that over-stretched teachers will be swamped. One head has blasted the ‘disgraceful mob mentality’ of parents which may mean she cannot open at all.

Last night, the Department for Education released last-minute guidance, telling teachers how to police the children they let in based on their parents’ occupations.

Teachers said pet shop workers, carpet fitters, nail technicians and even sausage makers were claiming key worker status.

‘We know many schools will have already spoken with parents/carers to identify who requires a school place,’ the official document said. ‘If it proves necessary, schools can ask for simple evidence that the parent in question is a critical worker, such as their work ID badge or payslip.’

The guidance stated: ‘If required, we recommend asking for simple evidence that the parent in question is a critical worker, such as confirmation from their employer on what their job is and how it is critical to the Covid-19 response. If any problems occur, schools should speak to their local authority.’

The document also revealed that teachers will be expected to work through the Easter holidays to look after key workers’ children.

Hairdressers and dog groomers have also been claiming they are included on the sweeping list of jobs ‘critical’ to the coronavirus response, a Times Educational Supplement survey found.

Teachers have been given the power to ask parents for ID and payslips to prove they are ‘key workers’ – amid fears that many will lie about their jobs so they can drop off their children. Pictured: A parent and a child play in London today

Boris Johnson at his daily coronavirus press briefing at Downing Street today

Private school fees could be refunded 

Private schools will be offering parents a partial refund, a sector chief has said.

Neil Roskilly, chief executive of the Independent Schools Association, said schools were considering returning a portion of fees for the summer term.

He added: ‘I think schools, if they can afford it, will also freeze fees for next year because they know things are tough for parents.’

But Mr Roskilly said that many parents are not withholding fees as they understand that schools are trying their best to maintain a ‘continuity of education’ using technology.

And Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council, urged parents to not withdraw fees as private schools will face the risk of closure if they lose money. He told The Sunday Telegraph that independent schools are ‘small businesses’ and are ‘in the same boat as everyone else’.

Teaching unions urged mothers and fathers to ‘play fair’ or risk a situation which will become ‘impossible to support’.

A plea was made to companies not to put ‘profit before people’ and ensure parents can work from home or schedule their hours so they can look after children.

Key workers are designated as those in sectors such as the NHS, transport, the food supply chain, social services, governmental and national security roles.

However, retailer Pets At Home gave staff a lawyer’s letter saying they were in a ‘critical category’ due to the need to keep up ‘the sale of food and other necessary goods including veterinary medicine’.

But one teacher remarked: ‘The Government stated schools are open for children of essential workers. Dog collars are not essential.’

Pets At Home did not respond to requests for comment. Education analysts said 20 per cent of pupils could attempt to go in today. Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, yesterday said: ‘We are getting reports of an overwhelming demand for places.’

He also asked employers: ‘Do not put profit over people. School places are there for the most vulnerable and to keep truly crucial operations running.’ 

Key workers: List of ‘critical’ staff whose children can attend lessons 

The ‘key workers’ who can send their children to school are divided into eight categories:

Health and social care

  • Includes doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, social workers, care workers; producers and distributers of medicines and medical protective equipment.

Education and childcare

  • Includes teaching staff, social workers and specialist education professionals.

Key public services

  • Includes those running the justice system, religious staff, charity workers and journalists.

Local and national government

  • Includes those needed to deliver the Covid-19 response or deliver essential public services.

Food and necessary goods

  • Includes those involved in food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery as well as those essential to the provision of other goods like hygienic and veterinary medicines.

Safety and national security

  • Includes police and support staff, MoD workers, the armed forces, fire services, those maintaining border security and prison staff.

Transport

  • Includes workers on air, water, road and rail transport – either passenger or freight.

Utilities, communication and financial services

  • Includes staff needed for banks and workers in the oil, gas, electricity and water sectors.

 

Dr Mary Bousted, of the National Education Union, said: ‘If schools are to limit their intake during the crisis, school leaders and teachers must exercise their professional judgment. There may have to be some difficult conversations.

‘Children who have one parent as a key worker should remain at home. Their other parent should look after them.’ Hundreds of thousands of pupils are eligible for makeshift ‘educational provision’.

But the Government’s definition of key workers is ‘too generous’ and has led to the risk of schools being flooded, said Neil Roskilly, chief executive of the Independent Schools Association, which has over 500 member schools.

He added: ‘Parents are thinking not only can I get my child away and looked after but I might even be able to expect some Easter holiday cover.’

Vulnerable children will still be cared for by schools, and children on free school meals will also be provided for. Schools chief inspector Amanda Spielman said yesterday: ‘Parents need to hear the message: Keep children at home if at all possible. Support the decisions your child’s school are making.’

Dr Mary Bousted, NEU joint general secretary, said the schools can only operate to help during this outbreak ‘if everyone plays fair’.

She said: ‘If schools are to limit their intake during the crisis, school leaders and teachers must exercise their professional judgment.

‘There may have to be some difficult conversations with parents, which could include saying that the school cannot accommodate your child and remain safe.’

Schools will not be expected to take a normal attendance register, but will be asked to submit a daily report stating whether they are open and how many children and staff are in school so capacity can be tracked, the department said.

The department has also published guidance on vulnerable children, with schools being asked to have a process in place to check on the welfare of any children in need who do not continue to come to school, to ensure they do not fall through the gaps.

NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said it is ‘imperative’ that different agencies understand who is responsible for children at home and added that social workers ‘will need continued support and resources to support those in isolation’.

He said: ‘We are living in a public health emergency and it’s never been more important for everyone to play their part in recognising and reporting abuse and neglect. Anyone with concerns about a child can contact the NSPCC Helpline for professional advice.’

  • Latest coronavirus video news, views and expert advice at mailplus.co.uk/coronavirus

Parents who demand that school takes in their kids 

By Simon Walters for the Daily Mail 

Primary school head Jennifer Gill angrily accused parents of ‘threatening’ her staff and undermining Boris Johnson’s attempt to stop Covid-19 from spreading. Pictured: Mr Johnson today

A headmistress denounced the ‘disgraceful mob mentality’ of non-key worker parents refusing to keep children at home.

Primary school head Jennifer Gill angrily accused parents of ‘threatening’ her staff and undermining Boris Johnson’s attempt to stop Covid-19 from spreading.

She said it was not the school’s duty to ‘provide ’emergency (child care) to protect jobs.’

Miss Gill rebuked parents for acting as though ‘having to look after your child is an inconvenience’ in the face of a ‘global emergency’.

And she said that as a result of the parents’ revolt she was seriously considering closing the entire school today to safeguard teachers.

It is the latest evidence that the public are not heeding the Prime Minister’s calls for responsible behaviour.

There have been distressing scenes in shops with the elderly and health workers unable to get vital supplies of food because of panic buying.

And the Government was forced to close pubs, restaurants and cafes after pleas to stay away from were ignored. From today only the children of key workers such as NHS, police, social and care workers, mortuary workers, those involved in the food supply industry and some transport staff – around 20 per cent of the workforce – can send their children to school.

The Government decided not to follow other nations where all schools are closed, arguing that it would remove key workers from the front line in the war on coronavirus. But it means other people must look after their children, making it impossible for some to carry on working.

There have been distressing scenes in shops with the elderly and health workers unable to get vital supplies of food because of panic buying. Pictured: Empty shelves at a Waitrose supermarket in London

Some school chiefs warned last week that confusion over the definition of key worker could see schools overwhelmed, with children turned away from school gates.

The fears were reinforced yesterday by Miss Gill, of St Patrick’s Roman Catholic state primary school in Consett, County Durham. In a letter posted on the website of the school, which has 400 pupils, she said if parents did not believe the seriousness of the situation they should turn on the television and see ‘the Italian army transporting coffins in the night from towns unable to cope’.

Her letter says: ‘Parents have been threatening to bring children to school next week despite not being allocated an emergency place. Due to this disgraceful mob mentality, I am seriously considering full closure on Monday to protect my staff.

‘School staff cannot be threatened for advice that has been issued to try to reduce deaths.

The JJ Moon’s in Tooting, south London, was packed with punters on on Thursday despite the government’s warnings to stay away

‘Emergency care is not provided to protect jobs and a place at school is not an automatic entitlement – it is a last resort to enable essential key workers to carry out their roles.

‘Many key workers will not need emergency care; sending your child to school puts them, your family and school staff at risk. Families where only parent is a key worker are not eligible for emergency care.’

Miss Gill says she appreciates it is a ‘challenging and stressful time’ but calls on parents to ‘put the needs of the whole community first’ and think how their actions can harm ‘the health and wellbeing of others’.

She stresses that looking after your child should not be seen as an inconvenience ‘when one considers the alternative’. The school, which was established in 1926 and rated good by Ofsted, was contacted for comment. 

  • Latest coronavirus video news, views and expert advice at mailplus.co.uk/coronavirus

Trio of grandmothers set up online classes… for 29 grandchildren! 

With schools closed and visits to their 29 grandchildren impossible, retired teacher Mindy Wiesenberg and her two sisters refused to let it get them down.

So the caring and inspirational trio set up an online ‘Grandma school’ to connect with their grandchildren in a fun and constructive way – and give their eight ‘frazzled’ children an hour’s break from parental duties each day.

Most of the children live in Israel, where schools shut a week ago amid measures to curb the spread of coronavirus – but three live in the UK and will be joining the lessons from today. 

With schools closed and visits to their 29 grandchildren impossible, retired teacher Mindy Wiesenberg (centre) and her two sisters refused to let it get them down

Most of the children live in Israel, where schools shut a week ago amid measures to curb the spread of coronavirus – but three live in the UK and will be joining the lessons from today. Pictured: One of the lessons

Mrs Wiesenberg, 63, who lives in Hendon, north London, said she and her sisters Zena Behrman, 65, and Dina Gittler, 58, pooled their knowledge to ‘create an organised framework and timetable for the grandchildren by giving an online lesson once a day in a subject area that we were familiar with’.

Their grandchildren are between three months and 17 years old. The trio decided to tailor the education towards the primary age children – of which there are 12 – as the older ones have school homework. They then fixed a daily slot to suit everyone – 9.30am, which is just two hours later in Israel.

Mrs Wiesenberg is encouraging grandparents here to adopt her and her sisters’ idea. ‘Any grandparent with a hobby can use their knowledge to create an interesting activity session,’ she said, praising it as an ‘opportunity for a unique and meaningful bonding’.

Mrs Wiesenberg is encouraging grandparents here to adopt her and her sisters’ idea

 

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