THE leader of the council has warned that yet another school term could be filled with “illness and disruption” as pupils across the city head back to classrooms.

Brighton and Hove City Council leader Phelim Mac Cafferty criticised the Department of Education for its “lack of planning” ahead of the new term.

It comes as head teachers and teaching unions warn that staff shortages caused by teachers isolating because of positive lateral flow tests will be “challenging” for some schools and could lead to more pupils learning online.

In an open letter to Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi, Cllr Mac Cafferty wrote: “When our schools broke up for the Christmas holidays Delta was still the dominant variant.

“Now our children and young people are starting the new term and facing a much more transmissible variant in Omicron, but still with no adequate extra protections in our schools.”

He said the Department of Education’s announcement of 7,000 air cleaning units for schools, colleges and early years settings on Sunday, “while welcome, falls far short of the adequate number which are required, and will still leave most schools without”.

  • READ MORE: What Brighton schools are doing about falling pupil numbers

Mr Zahawi outlined new Covid measures for schools on Sunday, saying he wanted to offer “reassurance” before the start of term.

Masks have been reintroduced in secondary classrooms, while all secondaries were asked to provide on-site testing for students ahead of their return to the classroom, and an additional 7,000 air cleaning units will be provided to schools, colleges and early years settings to improve ventilation in teaching spaces.

Mr Zahawi told Sky News on Monday that the “priority is to keep schools open”, and the Department for Education has suggested schools merge classes to keep face-to-face teaching in place.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that school bosses had responded to the reintroduction of face coverings for an initial two-week period with a “kind of weary, pragmatic acceptance that if that’s what we need to do to try to reduce transmission then that’s what we shall do”.

He added: “I think most people will hope that that’s a price worth paying to keep more young people in school, but ultimately that will come down to whether we’ve got enough staff when term starts tomorrow.”

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