Government should introduce 'Nightingale classes' say union chiefs

Government should introduce ‘Nightingale classes’ say teachers as latest figures show one in six state secondary schools couldn’t open fully last week due to Covid

  • Bosses from National Education Union (NEU) call for Nightingale classes in UK
  • Nightingale schools would be similar to the Nightingale hospitals built this year
  • Calls come after drop in number of state secondary schools which fully opened
  • Figures show 84 per cent fully opened last week, which is down eight per cent

Union chiefs have called on the government to create ‘Nightingale classes’ amid a drop in the number of schools able to fully open due to Covid-19. 

The latest government figures revealed one in six state secondary schools could not fully open last week – with most unable to do so because of coronavirus.

Schools are considered to be not fully open if they are unable to provide face-to-face teaching for all pupils for the whole school day and have asked a group of students to self-isolate.

Latest school attendance statistics reveal approximately 84 per cent of state-funded secondary schools were fully open on September 24 – down eight per cent from a week earlier.  

Now bosses from the National Education Union (NEU), the largest education union in the UK, have renewed calls on the government to create ‘Nightingale classes’ in a bid to get all of the country’s students back into lessons.

Union chiefs have called on the government to create ‘Nightingale classes’ amid a drop in the number of schools (library image) able to fully open due to Covid-19 

They say the Nightingale class would be similar to the government’s Nightingale hospital system – where pop-up hospitals were set up in conference centres at the start of the pandemic to deal with an anticipated surge in hospital admissions.

Joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: ‘With such a rapid drop in the number of fully open secondary schools in the space of just two weeks, it is clear the Government’s grip on the situation is now in question. 

‘It is doubtful the urgency of the situation has yet dawned on either (Prime Minister) Boris Johnson or (Education Secretary) Gavin Williamson, who must now ensure that schools and colleges are equipped to deal swiftly and effectively with any outbreaks that occur on their premises.

‘This does not just begin and end with testing, although that situation is parlous enough.

‘We need to see the drafting in of retired, supply and newly qualified teachers to get class sizes down.

‘Nightingale classes will be necessary to expand school space – we have been calling for that since June.


Joint general secretary of the NEU Dr Mary Bousted (pictured left) has called for the government to create Nightingale Classes. Geoff Barton (pictured right), general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said it was ‘extremely concerned’ by the drop in fully open state secondary schools

‘We also need proper funding support to schools, so that they can remain Covid-secure.’

According to the Department for Education (DfE)’s latest school attendance statistics, approximately 84 per cent of state-funded secondary schools were fully open on September 24 – down from 92 per cent a week earlier.

Schools are considered to be not fully open if they are unable to provide face-to-face teaching for all pupils for the whole school day and have asked a group of students to self-isolate.

The cause of schools not being fully open was ‘mostly due to Covid-19 related reasons’, the DfE said.

As a result, attendance in state-funded secondary schools fell from approximately 86% on September 17 to 84 per cent on September 24, the department said.

Meanwhile, attendance remained stable in fully open state-funded secondary schools at 87 per cent.

The DfE statistics also suggested that 99.8 per cent of state schools were open on September 24, with the small proportion that were shut being closed ‘mostly due to Covid-19 related reasons’.

State-funded schools are primary, secondary, special schools and alternative provision.

About 88 per cent of all children on roll in all state-funded schools were in attendance on September 24, the DfE said, adding that this figure has remained ‘broadly stable for three weeks’. 

Dr Bousted said it is up to the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson (pictured) or Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ‘ensure that schools and colleges are equipped to deal swiftly and effectively with any outbreaks that occur on their premise’

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said it was ‘extremely concerned’ by the drop in fully open state secondary schools.

‘This reflects the extremely difficult circumstances in which schools are operating amidst rising infection rates in the community,’ he said.

‘While there are some signs of improvement in accessing Covid tests and obtaining timely public health advice in the event of positive cases, we continue to receive reports from schools that problems persist, and this is not good enough.

‘It is increasingly clear that schools have effectively found themselves on the front line of managing the public health emergency, as well as delivering education, and the support simply has to be there.’

Highlighting that pressure on staff was ‘immense’, Mr Barton expressed concern it could lead to ‘deteriorating mental health and wellbeing’.

He said the Government should reimburse schools the cost of implementing Covid-19 safety measures, clarify plans for next summer’s exams, suspend performance tables for this academic year, and postpone plans to resume Ofsted inspections in January.

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