Teacher union calls for schools to move to rota system with children taught virtually half of the time

Camilla Turner
·3-min read
File photo dated 18/5/2020 of social distancing measures as a child studies on a marked table at Kempsey Primary School in Worcester - Jacob King/PA Wire
File photo dated 18/5/2020 of social distancing measures as a child studies on a marked table at Kempsey Primary School in Worcester - Jacob King/PA Wire

The UK's largest teacher union has called for secondary schools to move to a rota system with children taught virtually half the time.

The National Education Union (NEU) has asked the Education Secretary for an "urgent" discussion about secondaries in "high" and "very high" risk areas paring back classroom time for pupils.

They said students are increasingly being sent home to isolate in large numbers, leading to a pattern of "erratic" partial school closures.

In a letter to Gavin Williamson, they argued that rather than this "irregular" pattern of schooling it would be better to formally move to a rota system where only some pupils are in school each day and the rest learn from home. 

The union analysed data from the Office for National Statistics and found that the infection rate in secondary schools is 17 times higher than on September 1.  

"This is alarming and it is crucial that the Government looks at all potential measures to stabilise the situation including the possibility of a rota-based system for secondary schools and colleges," said Dr Mary Bousted, joint general-secretary of the NEU.

"A rota system will ensure smaller class sizes making social distancing achievable. The strain on public transport in the mornings and afternoons will be less and the social mixing after school will also be reduced."

Official guidance from the Department for Education states that schools will be told to operate on a rota if local lockdowns make it impossible to operate as normal.

Pupils will switch between classroom and home learning to “break chains of transmission of the virus” under a four-tier system.

Children of key workers take part in school activities at Oldfield Brow Primary School on April 08, 2020 in Altrincham, England. - Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Children of key workers take part in school activities at Oldfield Brow Primary School on April 08, 2020 in Altrincham, England. - Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Under Tier 1 schools will be fully open to all pupils, but with the mandatory use of face coverings in corridors and communal areas for pupils in Year 7 and above.

Then, “if all other measures have been exhausted”, schools would move to Tier 2, where secondary schools would teach children on a rota basis and primary schools would remain open to all pupils.

Tiers 3 and 4 cover schools returning to a system of teaching only the children of key workers, while remaining pupils are taught remotely.

Dr Bousted said that schools and colleges across the country are already struggling to cope with current infection rates and are sending whole year groups home to self-isolate.

"If this trend continues and nothing is put in place to try and reduce infection levels, our education system will be plunged into disarray," dr Bousted said.

"No decisions will be easy, but to just keep ignoring the data and drifting into higher infection rates with the increased erratic closure of schools and colleges is not an option."

It comes after official figures revealed that nearly half of secondary schools in England told children to stay at home because of coronavirus last week.

The data, published by the DfE this week, showed that 46 per cent of secondaries and 16 per cent of primaries sent pupils home for Covid-related reasons.

Between 11 per cent and 13 per cent of schools said that they had more than 30 pupils self-isolating due to potential contact with a case of Covid-19 inside the school.