The Department for Education has issued a call for former teachers to return to the classroom to minimise the disruption caused by staff absence in the spring term.
Amid a sharp rise in Omicron coronavirus cases, many schools were operating on reduced timetables or even forced to close before the Christmas break as staff were off sick with Covid-19 or looking after their own children who were self-isolating.
Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi has opened up an “urgent call for qualified teachers”, who can be recently retired, or who trained as a teacher and then moved careers.
The DfE said that “even a day a week” for the duration of the spring term would help schools to remain open for face-to-face lessons.
It insisted that comprehensive background checks would go ahead to ensure safeguarding measures were observed. “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,” said the DfE.
The sign-up portal includes a number of approved supply teacher agencies who will manage local supply and demand. These agencies will carry out the necessary pre-employment checks to ensure former teachers can be placed. However, candidates can approach other agencies if they prefer.
The government will also reach out to networks through teacher training programmes such as Get Into Teaching, as well as the Teacher Pension Scheme.
Graduates who have taken part in the Teach First scheme, which recruits high-performing graduates who would otherwise go into the commercial sector, will also be contacted if they currently work outside the profession and wish to make a temporary return to the classroom.
The DfE added that the Disclosure and Barring Service, which performs background checks for safeguarding purposes, is meeting turnaround times of 80% of enhanced checks issued within 14 days, and 30% of those are issued in just one day.
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.”
Zahawi said it was his “absolute priority” to protect education. “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,” he said.
“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.”
Last winter, unions claimed teachers had been asked to disable the NHS Covid-19 contact-tracing app to avoid the number of staff being “pinged” and forced to self-isolate.