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Over a quarter of schools surveyed report that they have already exceeded government Covid thresholds

Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary

Today (Tues 5th Oct), school leaders’ union NAHT (@NAHTnews) releases the findings of a new survey of its members which provides an insight into school leaders’ views on the impact of Covid in schools at the start of this Autumn term. The findings come as the government publishes its latest attendance figures at midday today.

The survey, from 1,106 school leaders, shows that they lack confidence in the government’s Covid guidance, with only 14% saying they have any confidence, and 78% saying they are ‘unconfident’ or ‘very unconfident’. In particular, school leaders raised specific concerns about the current rules relating to self-isolation for close family contacts, with 80% wanting to see changes in that area.

School leaders also say that they want to see the government do more in relation to improving ventilation, with 59% calling for the government to do more to help improve ventilation in classrooms and 40% calling for the government to provide air filters where necessary.

The survey also highlights the scale of disruption schools continue to experience this term, with 26% saying they have already breached the threshold for cases set by the government.* Respondents also reported that, on average, they have already had three members of staff absent this term due to Covid.

Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary, said:

“Clearly Covid and Covid-related absence is still interrupting education for staff and students. We are hearing from members on a daily basis who are still experiencing a high level of disruption.

“Our members are particularly concerned about the current guidance relating to siblings and household contacts. At the moment, if a child tests positive for Covid, their siblings can continue to attend school, even if they share a bedroom, for example. Our members say this is actively contributing to the spread of Covid in schools.

“School leaders want the government to revisit its guidance, particularly when it comes to contact tracing and self-isolation. No one wants to see a child miss any time off school, but there is a real risk that the current policy is inadvertently leading to more children missing school in the long run.

“The results of this survey, coupled with the latest data on case numbers among school-aged children, should be ringing alarm bells for government. Put simply, we cannot allow Covid to rage unchecked in schools as it will only lead to more disruption to children’s education.

“We now have a new Secretary of State for Education and we look forward to working with him to ensure that school leaders can have confidence in government guidance and that everything possible is done to minimise disruption to education as we move into the winter.”

NAHT’s research is published as the association gathers for its Annual Conference in London (Fri 8th-Sat 9th), where new Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi will address school leaders in person for the first time.

* The government’s guidance to schools states that if a certain threshold of Covid cases is reached, they should ‘think about taking extra action’ by contacting their local health teams, as ‘it could indicate transmission is happening in the setting’. The thresholds are whichever is reached first of:

  • 5 children, pupils, students or staff, who are likely to have mixed closely, test positive for COVID-19 within a 10-day period, or
  • 10% of children, pupils, students or staff who are likely to have mixed closely test positive for COVID-19 within a 10-day period.

Full survey results

Responses from 1,106 school leaders showed that:

Almost half (48%) of schools had lower or significantly lower attendance at the start of term than they would expect in a non-Covid year, with two of the top reasons for absence being pupil self-isolating due to symptoms of coronavirus (86%) or due to possible exposure to coronavirus (54%).

26% of schools had already met the threshold of 10% or 5 pupils in a group with Covid-19.

On average, respondents reported having had 3 members of staff absent due to Covid-19 this term.

Only 14% of school leaders said they had any confidence in the government’s Covid guidance for schools, with nearly half (46%) saying they were ‘unconfident’ in it, and 32% saying they were ‘very unconfident’.

The top three additional mitigations school leaders want to call for are changes to rules on self-isolation for close contacts, including family members (80%), funding to improve ventilation in classrooms (59%), and HEPA filters in classrooms supplied by government (40%).

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