Omicron - NEU advice
Covid-related absences are on the rise in both primary and secondary settings, among staff and pupils.
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 further, in particular in London, the South East and the East of England.
Education staff have worked tirelessly throughout this pandemic and, according the Office of National Statistics, are 26 per cent more likely to catch Covid-19 than the general population.
Until we know for sure how infectious the Omicron variant is, how serious its effects and vaccine effectiveness against it, we are calling on the Government to take reasonable and proportionate steps to protect the continuity of education.
Many local authorities have already introduced tougher measures, but now is the time for those who haven't to act. Children have suffered huge disruption to their education since March 2020 and the Government must now show leadership to help keep absences of staff and pupils as low as possible.
Our approach throughout the pandemic has been to protect staff and students and minimise educational disruption. The measures we are calling for include:
• Face coverings to be worn by pupils and staff in secondary classrooms and communal areas, and by staff who wish to in classrooms and communal areas of other settings, as is the case in Scotland and Wales.
• 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.
• Ventilation measures to keep CO2 below 800 C02 ppm in all occupied classrooms and investment in air filtration devices.
• Measures such as one-way routes and staggered break times to minimise mixing between classes and year groups wherever possible, improve distancing and cut crowding in corridors.
• Government to issue guidance to all schools on safe organisation of gatherings and meetings, based on various factors including local case rates, outbreaks in school, quality of ventilation and space available.
In addition, we need a further push on vaccination with staff allowed to book vaccines and boosters in school time without loss of pay, a campaign to encourage twice-weekly testing for all staff and pupils and a tightening of isolation requirements. No child who has a sibling or other household member with confirmed Covid-19 should attend school until they have had a negative PCR test.
Once more is known about the Omicron variant, these measures may need to be enhanced further, or may no longer be necessary. But for now, given the uncertainty, it makes sense to adopt an extremely cautious approach.
We are calling for these measures to be introduced on a national basis but in the meantime would urge National Education Union (NEU) members to discuss their implementation with management as soon as possible.