Covid Plan B?
The National Education Union (NEU) was extremely disappointed that, in his announcement of 'Plan B' measures yesterday, the Prime Minister made no mention of schools, despite cases rising so fast leading to so much disruption of education. More than 200,000 pupils were absent for Covid-related reasons on 25 November and, since then, infection rates among school-age children have risen even further.
We welcome the Department for Education (DfE) guidance communicated to school and college leaders late yesterday, including news that Ofsted inspections will not take place next week for early years, school and college settings, or for secondary schools in the first week of the January term when onsite asymptomatic testing is expected to take place.
Today, we have written to the Secretary of State, jointly with the NASUWT, requesting that Government pause the resumption of routine Ofsted inspections until after the February half term, to allow schools and colleges the time they need to deal with the anticipated fallout of the Omicron variant and prepare their pupils for the spring and summer terms.
It is clear that current in-school mitigations are not enough to keep rising case counts at bay, especially in the new context of the fast-spreading new variant. The NEU put out its own Plan B for schools yesterday, and we think Boris Johnson must take further action to minimise the disruption of education.
Our plan calls for:
- Face coverings to be worn, in line with Government requirements, by pupils and staff in secondary communal areas and by primary staff in communal areas. This should be extended to secondary classrooms for staff and students. No member of staff in any setting should be prevented from wearing a face covering in any part of the premises.
- Children who have a sibling or other household member with Covid-19 should not attend school/college until they have had a negative PCR test - as in Scotland - in addition to the Government guidance of ten-day isolation on close contacts of confirmed or suspected Omicron cases.
- The Government should change its ventilation guidance to state that classrooms must keep CO2 below 800 ppm, as advocated by the Health and Safety Executive and should invest urgently in air-filtration devices.
- Measures such as one-way routes and staggered break times should be reintroduced to minimise mixing between classes and year groups wherever possible.
- Government should issue guidance to all schools and colleges on safe organisation of gatherings and meetings, including options for social distancing or virtual events, based on factors including local case rates, outbreaks in the school/college itself, quality of ventilation and space available.
- In addition, Government should encourage schools and colleges to allow staff to book vaccines and boosters during working hours without loss of pay and launch a campaign to encourage twice-weekly testing for all staff and pupils. Government should also mandate provision of higher-grade medical masks (FFP2, FFP3) provided where requested by at-risk staff and pupils previously defined as clinically vulnerable, or clinically extremely vulnerable, or involved in close contact and personal care.
- Risk assessments, including individual risk assessments, must continue to be reviewed and updated and appropriate safety measures introduced and implemented.
The NEU escalation guidance may be used in cases where there are concerns about a school's safety arrangements. Refer to the NEU safety checklists/advice and our advice on the risk assessment process.
Please stay safe as you prepare for your well-earned seasonal break.