Jewish schools are being overwhelmed by the rising number of children being sent to school by “key worker” parents during the current lockdown, with one expert warning the situation has reached a “critical point”.
The Jewish Community Academy Trust (JCAT), which comprises of Wolfson Hillel School in Enfield, Hertsmere Jewish Primary School in Hertsmere and Rimon Primary and Sacks Morasha in Barnet this week warned that some schools are simply unable to cope with the increased demand and may be forced to cap entry.
It reports that during the first lockdown in March, only around 40 out of a total of 1,400 children at all four schools attended at any given time.
This time, however, attendances have soared, with around 125 pupils (approximately 25 percent) at Hertsmere Jewish Primary School physically present, 150 pupils at Wolfson Hillel (33 percent of the total), 40 at Sacks Morasha (20 percent) and 100 at Rimon Primary, representing almost half of all pupils.
While children of key workers have always been allowed to attend school, the clarity of the government’s message has changed, warned JCAT chief executive Kirsten Jowett. “Last time they encouraged parents to send in their children only if they had two key worker parents. This time they have encouraged children with one or more.” Jowett also blames the the expanded definition of ‘critical worker’.
She added: “The biggest change that has caused us a problem is the government said any child who can’t cope with or have access to remote learning can come in. This means that pretty much any parent who feels their child cannot manage remote learning is being sent in.”
With a “significant proportion” of staff shielding at home due to the new highly transmissible Covid-19 variant and with more staff needed to both teach children at school and those learning remotely, “the workload is doubling for staff” to ensure they offer pupils the best service, she said.
Jowett has been forced to write to parents at Hertsmere and Hillel, where numbers high, to share the government’s updated guidelines that asks even parents of critical workers to keep their children out of school if they can work from home and to tell them the school may create a priority list.
Hayley Gross, headteacher of Sacks Morasha, told Jewish News that while most parents are being responsible by keeping children at home, “a few have used the guidelines to their advantage”.
Despite being at maximum capacity, Gross says her staff are managing to cope. “We have a strong team who have been absolutely fantastic and students are getting the same quality of education whether they are learning in the classroom or online.”
Two teachers from Beit Shvidler School in Edgware confirmed that has been a “significant jump” in pupil numbers at the school, with up to four times as many attending compared to the first lockdown.
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