A number of schools are reportedly drawing up plans to remain closed after the New Year because of the spread of the new Covid variant.
Headteachers of several schools are reportedly concerned over the high number of pupils absent from the classroom as the pandemic persists.
The number of absent children has risen to 235,600, the second highest figure this year, and some schools have already broken up for Christmas.
The total number of absences is an increase of 13 per cent on the last time the survey of school attendance was taken on 25 November. The DfE has also estimated that 2.4 per cent of teachers and school leaders were absent from schools due to Covid-related reasons on 9 December.
Concerns over omicron are based on reports that the variant is more infectious than the previous variant delta.
The Welsh government has announced that its schools will delay the start of the new term by two days “to ensure they have robust plans in place to move to remote learning if required”, while school leaders in England are preparing for an extended switch to online learning in January, with many ensuring that pupils take laptops and textbooks home for the holidays.
Mums Say Radio has learned of primary and secondary schools in England and Wales that have decided to end term early because of staff shortages caused by illness and Covid-related isolation. While some schools have already closed on schedule, for most pupils the official end of term is on Friday, with schools in a few local authorities continuing until next Tuesday.
Parents at Mersey Drive community primary school in Bury were told by the school: “We have reached the point where we are unable to maintain safe staffing levels. After consultation with the local authority we have reluctantly had to make the decision to close early for Christmas in order to keep everyone safe.”
Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary for England, told headteachers he was planning to encourage former teachers to help fill the gaps left by staff shortages.
In a letter to heads, Zahawi said: “We will work with sector leaders and supply agencies over the coming days to offer advice to ex-teachers who want to provide support to schools and colleges.”
Stephen Morgan, the shadow schools minister, said: “Children have been in and out of school facing ongoing disruption to education and wellbeing again this term. This cannot continue. The government has continuously failed to plan ahead, but must act now and use the Christmas holidays to prevent the chaos seen last January.”
Local authorities in England, Wales and Scotland are making preparations in case of school closures next month, or delaying reopening to allow for testing.
A spokesperson for Southampton city council said some schools there were “postponing their return date by one to two days to ensure a thorough testing programme is in place to enable them to welcome students back safely … The situation is under constant review, and we are on standby to support schools in implementing any new guidance.”
Other areas are preparing to take further measures such as reintroducing “bubbles” of students to minimise the spread of infection, and reintroducing social distancing measures such as staggered starts and restricted use of school facilities.
Jeremy Miles, Wales’s minister for education, said all schools should plan for measures based on the Welsh government’s “very high risk level” of infection control, and was giving authority for schools to operate staggered start and finish times.
“I am providing all schools with two planning days at the start of the spring term. This will allow time for schools to assess staffing capacity and put the necessary measures in place to support the return of all learners,” Miles said.
Schools in Guernsey are closing early, the island’s government has announced, before the scheduled end of term on Wednesday.