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Prime Minister’s statement on returning children to school

Prime Minister @BorisJohnson has today made a direct appeal to parents to return their children to the classroom when schools reopen next week.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has today made a direct appeal to parents to return their children to the classroom when schools reopen next week.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said:

I have previously spoken about the moral duty to reopen schools to all pupils safely, and I would like to thank the school staff who have spent the summer months making classrooms Covid-secure in preparation for a full return in September.

We have always been guided by our scientific and medical experts, and we now know far more about coronavirus than we did earlier this year.

As the Chief Medical Officer has said, the risk of contracting Covid-19 in school is very small and it is far more damaging for a child’s development and their health and well-being to be away from school any longer.

This is why it’s vitally important that we get our children back into the classroom to learn and to be with their friends. Nothing will have a greater effect on the life chances of our children than returning to school.

Chief Medical Officers and Deputy Chief Medical Officers of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have made a statement on the evidence of risks and benefits to health from schools and childcare settings reopening, which says:

  • We are confident in the extensive evidence that there is an exceptionally small risk of children of primary or secondary school age dying from COVID-19. The infection fatality rate (proportion of those who are infected who die) for those aged 5 to 14 is estimated at 14 per million, lower than for most seasonal flu infections.

  • We are confident that there is clear evidence of a very low rate of severe disease in children of primary and secondary school ages compared to adults, even if they catch COVID-19. The percentage of symptomatic cases requiring hospitalisation is estimated to be 0.1% for children aged 0 to 9 and 0.3% among those aged 10 to 19, compared to a hospitalisation rate of over 4% in the UK for the general population. Most of these children make a rapid recovery.

  • We are confident that there is clear evidence from many studies that the great majority of children and teenagers who catch COVID-19 have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.

  • Control measures such as hand and surface hygiene, cohorting to reduce number of daily contacts, and directional controls to reduce face-to-face contact remain key elements of maintaining COVID-19 secure school environments and minimising risk.

Commenting on today’s report by PHE England and the Chief Medical Officer’s comments on the full return of schools and colleges, 

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

“The NEU agrees with the Chief Medical officer about the benefits a return to full time education will have for children and young peoples education and well being. 

“We believe that it is vital that the Government must take every step it can both to allow this wider re-opening and to keep the R rate below 1.

“Today’s report by PHE England shows that there were only a small number of outbreaks in schools after the partial wider opening in June, but as the report itself acknowledges there are limitations on the generalisability of its findings – both because there was little data from secondary schools and because in primary schools much smaller ‘bubble” sizes were possible in the summer. 

“It is very important that such monitoring studies are maintained during the period of wider school opening.

“Schools and colleges are  currently doing all they can to ensure their buildings are as COVID secure as possible, as well as dealing with the fallout from the exams fiasco.

“However school staff, parents and pupils are being sorely let down by Government because of a lack of a Plan B and of ensuring robust track trace and test is in place throughout the country. 

“We believe the Government is negligent in the extreme. 

“Schools and colleges need to know what should happen if an outbreak of the virus occurs in individual schools or more widely with either national, regional or local spikes.  Government advice needs to cover the possible self-isolation of bubbles and, in extremis, moving to rotas or to more limited opening. It needs to cover advice to heads about the protections needed for staff in high risk categories if infection rates rise.

“Government should be employing more teachers and seeking extra teaching spaces to allow education to continue in a Covid secure manner if infections rise. This should include employment of student teachers who have finished their courses and not yet found jobs, as well as mobilisation of supply staff.”

Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the NASUWT – The Teachers’ Union, said:

“As we have made clear since the start of this crisis, Governments and administrations must follow the scientific evidence and advice when planning for the reopening of schools.“The joint statement issued by the UK’s chief medical officers underlines the critical importance of safe working practices in schools, ensuring that social distancing and stringent hygiene measures are in place and secure at all times, particularly for those with underlying health conditions.

“Today’s statement adds weight to the Prime Minister’s message that there is a moral duty to reopen schools, and that schools must reopen safely.“The chief medical officers’ statement has reinforced the critical importance of effective risk control measures. Governments across the UK must take steps to ensure that there are effective systems in place to monitor schools’ practices and to provide ongoing reassurance on safety after schools reopen.

“It is regrettable that the statement from the chief medical officers has not commented specifically on the well-known racial disparities linked to Covid-19. We have asked the Government to publish its evidence on the equality impact of its plans for schools but so far they have refused to do so. It is important that the public is given all the facts.”

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