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Covid cases could rise as schools go back – Sector Response

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Commenting as the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) release a statement warning that Covid cases could rise as schools return in Septermber, James Bowen, director of policy for school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“This is a significant and important statement from Sage and it lays bare the challenges school will likely face next term.  It would be naïve to assume that things will be completely back to normal in September. This latest statement shows that scientists expect the number of Covid cases among children and young people to increase when school starts again. Sadly, that means further disruption to pupils’ education seems set to continue.

“Parents and school leaders will therefore be looking to government to keep case numbers as low as possible and do everything in its power to keep that disruption to a bare minimum. As Sage has rightly pointed out, the government has chosen to remove many of the mitigations that were in place in schools last year, and it has done very little to look to replace these with alternative safety measures. Its reason for removing bubbles and isolation requirements was to stop children missing school. But if an increase in cases means more children getting ill, lost learning could actually increase for many.

“A strategy of ‘hoping for the best’ is not good enough, at the very least they must ensure that we have a properly functioning test and trace system that parents can have confidence in, a quick and effective public health response should additional mitigations be required in some schools, and support for schools to improve ventilation wherever needed.

“If numbers do start to rise in the way Sage have predicted, a quick and effective public health response will be essential to keep pupils and staff safe.”

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:  

“This statement from SAGE is a rebuke to Gavin Williamson. Next to nothing has been done to prepare for the possibility of large numbers of cases which will lead to lots of education disruption as children and staff have to isolate because they are positive – or stay off because their covid symptoms go on longer. 

“It is only right to recognise that a large percentage of the school community is unvaccinated, and that this will remain the case for a while yet. We cannot just assume a return to normal from the start of term. The bringing together of a school community of several million will inevitably lead to a rise in case counts. 

“During the summer term Gavin Williamson was conspicuous both by his absence and his silence, when cases were riding so fast in schools. It is perfectly clear to education professionals that the current safety requirements for schools and colleges are not sufficient to prevent a rise in cases come September. 

“The CO2 monitors are welcome but far too late – contracts have not even been assigned for them yet. And they will be rolled out over many weeks, and will only diagnose a problem, not solve it. 

“To prevent a sharp rise in cases, the watchwords must be ventilation, air filtration, masks, vaccines and vigilance. 

“Gavin Williamson needs to support schools to consider face coverings from day one of term, alongside social distancing where possible, and special consideration for vulnerable staff. 

“The danger is not that schools and colleges will be slow to act, but that Government is.” 

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