As 1 million children were out of school last week, only 47,000 of those actually had Covid – the rest were defined as close contacts so had to self-isolate and stay off school. These figures come as the latest government announcement stated that children aged 12 to 15 with severe neuro-disabilities, Down’s syndrome, immunosuppression and multiple or severe learning disabilities will be vaccinated against Covid-19. In addition, children over 12 who live with immune suppressed individuals will also be immunised as well as some 17-year-olds. This means that the majority of pupils will not be vaccinated, so what do union leaders think?
Union and Association opinions
- Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders: “We understand the reasons for this advice and support the need for caution because of the overriding importance of ensuring that children are not exposed to any risk which outweighs the potential benefit of a vaccine. However, this leaves us with the potential for very high numbers of infections among children in the autumn term, particularly given the relaxation of wider restrictions in society. This could mean yet more educational disruption as well as causing wider public health concerns. The government must provide suitably trained staff for on-site asymptomatic testing planned at the outset of the autumn term, make funding available for high-quality ventilation systems, ensure its new approach to contact tracing is robust and effective, and clarify contingency arrangements in the event of local outbreaks. The constant vagueness and confusion of its guidance and the virtual non-existence of material support for schools and colleges is completely unacceptable and must improve if we are to put an end to educational disruption and ensure that children remain in class.”
- Patrick Roach, general secretary of NASUWT teaching union: “Much more needs to be done by Government to continue to support schools to maintain Covid safety, given the rising case numbers involving young people and the serious risk of increased community level transmission following lifting of Coronavirus restrictions this summer. Additional investment in effective onsite testing and other measures including enhanced ventilation and air quality systems will be vital in minimising further disruption to children’s education at the start of the new academic year.”
- Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT heads union: “The government needed to be clear about its reasoning behind the decision not to vaccinate pupils. The idea that they [pupils] are less affected by Covid is demonstrably untrue given the massive disruption to their education over the last year, and also the worrying levels of long Covid in young people. The number of children off school actually sick with Covid is increasing, so disruption and missed education looks set to continue unless some action is taken to prevent transmission in schools.”
Other possible mechanisms for September 2021
Covid rules in many UK schools will be different for the new school year. Current plans are to remove any requirement for children and adults to self-isolate as close contacts in England from mid-August, however, plans can be subject to change. Firm plans exist for schools to carry out a lateral flow test on all pupils twice in the September 2021 start. However, there may be a need for daily testing of children and school staff who have been identified as a close contact to someone testing positive to Covid to be introduced. A study has shown that this could reduce school absences by up to 39%, according to Oxford researchers.
Leaders are also calling for all teachers to be double jabbed over the summer.