Government must explore non-school alternatives for children over summer holidays led by community workers and volunteers including the use of independent school facilities and football stadiums
IT is not safe enough for all schools to re-open on June 1, says a report from Independent SAGE, the 12-strong committee chaired by former Chief Scientific Adviser Sir David King. The report concludes that the government is not following the advice of its own scientists.
The report says that modelling from the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE) shows R increasing if schools re-open. It notes that since it published its draft report last week, the government has also heightened the risks of a resurgence of COVID-19 cases by undermining its own messaging.
It says: ‘Public adherence to social distancing is influenced by trust in the government and its messaging. This trust is increasingly strained.’
Today’s full report which was prepared after a public consultation with parents and teachers in association with the British Medical Journal and Mumsnet, concludes: ‘We therefore believe that by going ahead with a general school reopening on June 1st, the government is not following the advice of its SAGE group and is risking a new surge in cases of COVID-19 in some communities.’
The report includes a full Q&A based on questions and comments submitted to the committee by parents, pupils and teachers as well as a ‘risk assessment tool’ that provides a roadmap for schools to re-open safely.
It says this has to be a four-stage stage process that takes into account risks to ‘the school, the staff, the pupil and the parents and family environment’ and must be made on a ‘case-by-case basis’ using local real-time data.
In contrast, it says the government has committed to ‘top-down decision-making without engagement’ and that ‘well-functioning, coordinated, local test, track and isolate’ must be in place. It notes: ‘We have seen no compelling evidence that these conditions have so far been met across the country. Until they are, it is not safe to open schools everywhere on June 1.’
It also directly contradicts the advice of Professor Jonathan Van Tam who said at Monday’s press conference that children are less likely to pass on the virus. ‘Ongoing UK data and international data suggest that children are in fact as likely as adults to become infected and carry the virus...”’
The report raises the prospect that asymptomatic children could become ‘institutional amplifiers’ spreading the virus unnoticed into the community and that there is heightened risk of disease for families with children living in intergenerational households or who come from a BAME or disadvantaged backgrounds..
The government must act to protect children and prevent them from falling behind with alternative arrangements suggesting summer camps could be set up using facilities that include unused independent school buildings, playing fields and football stadiums.. Outdoor camps or schools in well-ventilated buildings or marquees would reduce the risk to both children and communities and some of the 750,000 people who volunteered to help the NHS could be brought into help subject to safeguarding protections.
The report notes ‘the coincidental government release of SAGE advisory documents relevant to school re-opening’ last week on the same day that Independent SAGE published its draft report. Its analysis of the modelling concludes, ‘policy decisions are not directly based on the mathematical modelling feeding into SAGE.
‘Of all the detailed scenarios provided by DfE and then considered by epidemiological models, none were selected as the government policy for reopening schools’
Sir David King said:
“We recognise the difficult position that many families have been placed in by the government’s decision to send schools back from June 1st.
"Whilst we totally understand the imperative to get the nation’s children back in the classroom as soon as it is safe to do so the evidence clearly shows that the government has jumped the gun here.
“Crucially we conclude that the best way forward cannot be one size fits all, it requires localised case by case responses to ensure that the risk of flair ups is kept to a minimum.”
Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:
“This latest report casts yet more doubt and concern over the Prime Minister’s decision to press ahead with a June 1st wider opening for schools. The Government’s primary duty should be to protect its people, but in England - unlike the rest of the UK – we are hurtling towards the further opening of schools before the scientific evidence says it is safe to do so.
“This decision threatens not just the health of school communities but also of wider society, with the clear risk of a rise in the R rate. All the sacrifices that have been made to stay indoors and try to contain this virus could be thrown away in the pursuit of fulfilling an arbitrary promise to open schools more widely from June 1.
“The National Education Union’s snapshot survey of 4,016 members, published today, shows that even with the current low pupil numbers in schools, significant problems with health and safety exist. Members speak of the inability to maintain social distancing, the lack of hand sanitiser, insufficient PPE and not enough sinks for hand washing. Come June 1 should Government continue to press ahead with their plans, this will clearly get significantly worse.
“We believe the right thing to do is to wait a couple of weeks for the level of coronavirus to recede further and for the test and track programme to become embedded. We must not take risks with the nation’s children, their parents or school staff.
“We agree with Independent SAGE that the extent of the epidemic in Britain is greater than other European nations and that our school system is quite different. We have much larger class sizes in the UK and in England schools have much less support from local authorities.
“No one is saying go back when it is 100% safe, but with 37,460 people across the country having already lost their lives to Covid-19 the Prime Minister must accept his responsibilities to the country and draw back from this arbitrary date.”
PM on track to begin phased return of schools, colleges and nurseries from 1 June: From 1 June schools, colleges and nurseries are still set to open to more children says @BorisJohnson, despite Independent Sage report warnings Schools, colleges and… https://t.co/dS9RO2nsFe pic.twitter.com/2nGgFQacdm— FE News - The #FutureofEducation News Channel (@FENews) May 24, 2020