Some schools are 60 per cent full, poll finds as teachers call for cap on places

Some schools are 60 per cent full, a new survey has found as Matt Hancock said that key workers whose partners do not work should keep their children at home. 

During the first week of the new lockdown, one in ten schools had between 40 and 60 per cent of pupils attending according to a poll conducted by the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT).

The union has urged ministers to impose a cap on the number of students allowed on site, as they warned that the increase in demand for places compared to the previous period of school closures last Spring is “very concerning”.

Meanwhile, the Health Secretary told key workers to keep their children at home if they can. He said that if one parent is a key worker and their partner does not work, then they should not send their children to school.

“It’s always been the guidance that schools are there for key workers’ children where key workers need to have the children in school in order to be able to get to work,” he told Sky News.

“If you’re a key worker and your partner doesn’t work then you shouldn’t be sending your children to school.”

He said that key workers need to have access to school places so they can go to work, but added that it is a “very difficult balance to strike”.

His remarks come amid a growing row with unions over how many pupils should be allowed school places during lockdown, after the Government broadened the criteria for both key workers and vulnerable children.

Headteachers have complained that they have been inundated with requests for places and have urged the Government to revisit the guidance on key workers.

Where schools are struggling with capacity, ministers have been asked to consider restricting places to children in two-parent families where both are key workers, as opposed to just one, as well as allowing heads to prioritise children according to need.

But the Government has so far refused to give into pressure to tighten up the definition of key workers, and have issued guidance telling schools they should not turn children away if they meet the criteria for a place.

Four fifths of schools in England have between ten and 40 per cent of pupils taking up places, according to NAHT’s poll of 4,964 heads.

A further ten per cent of schools have between 40 and 60 per cent of pupils attending. Just over one per cent of school reported that they have between 61 and 100 per cent of pupils attending.

Nearly half (48 per cent) of headteachers admitted that they have had to turn eligible pupils away  "due to an excess of demand" for places.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, said: "We are concerned that high levels of attendance could seriously undermine the impact of lockdown measures, and may even run the risk of ultimately extending school closures. “We urgently need the government to specify how many pupils on-site might be too many.”

Children who do not have a laptop or an appropriate study space are now classified as “vulnerable” and are entitled to a school place during lockdown. EU transition workers have also been added to the list of parents who are eligible for school places.

A DfE spokeswoman said: "Schools are open for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers. We expect schools to work with families to ensure all critical worker children are given access to a place if this is required.

"If critical workers can work from home and look after their children at the same time then they should do so, but otherwise this provision is in place to enable them to provide vital services.

"The protective measures that schools have been following throughout the autumn terms remain in place to help protect staff and students, while the national lockdown helps reduce transmission in the wider community."

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