These mitigations are now necessary given the current pattern of increasing cases amongst school age children, which is leading to increasing disruption of education.
There is further disruption when staff have to isolate. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) confirms that education workers are currently 26 per cent more likely to have Covid-19 than the general population because cases are higher among school children.
The Government must stand behind educators and support schools to:
Vaccines should be encouraged. Where needed, staff should be allowed to book vaccines/boosters in school time without loss of pay.
MitigateSafety mitigations to be increased as follows:
- Face coverings to be worn, in line with Government recommendations, by pupils and staff in secondary communal areas and classrooms and by primary staff in communal areas. No member of staff in any setting should be prevented from wearing a face covering in any part of the premises;
- 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. If levels consistently rise above this, staff should follow NEU ventilation guidance or contact their safety rep;
- Measures such as one way routes, 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 staff and parent gatherings, events, and meetings. This could be based on various factors including local case rates, outbreaks in the school itself, quality of ventilation and space available and should include ensuring social distancing or hybrid events.
Testing to be strongly encouraged for all staff and pupils at least twice weekly, including registering of test results. Schools, staff and families should be told where they can access these. Some schools are texting reminders to parents twice a week.
Government requirements are that people who are fully vaccinated, or aged under 18 years and 6 months, and identified as a contact of someone with Covid-19, whether Omicron or not, should take a lateral flow test every day for seven days. NEU urges schools to go further and encourage parents to keep sibling and other household covid-19 contacts at home until a negative PCR test result has been received, to protect other pupils/staff and families.
Further knowledge downgrading the possible risk of the Omicron variant or showing the success of the vaccination programme may allow the Government to withdraw these measures. Further confirmation of growing concern may mean that we need to review them in favour of stronger mitigations.