A lack of coronavirus testing for teaching staff could lead to schools being forced to close again, a headteacher has warned.
Darren Gelder, of Grace Academy in Solihull, said his school has already had to temporarily lose five staff members who are having to self isolate or have family members who are self isolating.
He said one member of staff who is isolating was offered a test more than 350 miles away in Fife and the others were unable to book any tests.
“The biggest challenge that we’re going to have to keeping the school open is going to be about keeping it staffed and staff shortages will have the biggest impact on that,” Mr Gelder told Sky News.
“Particularly the challenge we’ve got around the testing – of not being able to know whether it is positive or not and staff can come back in. That means staff are off for longer.
“All schools these days are working on very, very tight budgets. There is not a lot of spare staffing within there so we reach a critical tipping point very, very quickly.”
The headteacher’s concerns came after Gavin Williamson was warned of the possibility of legal action if the Government fails to protect teachers working in schools which have fully reopened during the pandemic.
Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, said school staff are “deeply concerned” about an increased risk of Covid-19 transmission in schools amid a lack of safety measures,
In a letter to the Education Secretary, Dr Roach demanded that stronger protections are put in place in schools which opened their doors to all pupils full-time this month.
He told Mr Williamson the union was “expressly reserving our members’ legal rights” in the case of a claim for breach of duty of care or personal injury due to foreseeable risks from reopening schools.
Schools in England have been hit with Covid-19 cases since it became compulsory for pupils to return.
Some have closed their doors days after reopening, while others have told year groups to self-isolate for two weeks following confirmed cases.
Figures from the Department for Education (DfE) showed that around 92 per cent of state schools were fully open on Thursday last week, and approximately 88 per cent of students were back in class on the same day.
But NASUWT members are reporting that depleted staff numbers in schools – due to illness or self-isolation – have led to “serious” difficulties in maintaining safe working practices at all times.
In the letter, Dr Roach said: “With rising numbers of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the wider community, our members are deeply concerned that, in the absence of effective control measures, there is increased risk of Covid-19 transmission within schools.
“We further note with concern that your Department is unable to provide any evidence on the effectiveness of the risk control measures recommended in your guidance to schools.”
A DfE spokesperson said: “Schools have implemented a range of protective measures, based on the Public Health England endorsed ‘system of controls’, which create an inherently safer system to minimise the risks of transmission. This includes reducing mixing and distancing where possible, including by staggering break and lunch times, as well as increasing the frequency of cleaning and handwashing.
“Figures show that on September 10 99.9 per cent of state-funded schools were open to pupils, and we will continue to work closely with schools to ensure all appropriate steps are taken to keep pupils and staff safe.”
Additional reporting by PA Media.