Commenting on attendance figures for education settings on 9 December, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said:  

“The Prime Minister's end of term report makes for sorry reading. Boris Johnson has not kept his eye on the ball, and his lack of action in ensuring schools have measures in place to keep on top of ever-increasing Covid-19 infection rates is shocking. Today's data show that 236,000 pupils were absent from school on 9 December for Covid-19 related reasons, around one in 35 pupils. 

“The NEU has been calling for a fit for purpose Plan B for schools, one that increases safety mitigations for schools and colleges and would ensure continuity of education and a control on case counts. It emphasises face coverings, isolation, ventilation, staggered break times, one-way routes around the school site, and guidance on gatherings and access to vaccines for staff. (1)  

“How we approach the new year is in the gift of the Prime Minister. He has got us to this place and must not simply rely on the school holiday to halt the rise of Covid in schools.  Boris Johnson must bring forward a plan to keep schools and colleges safe and to keep education going. He can start by looking at the NEU's.” 

Editor’s note

  1. Last week, the NEU set out its Plan B to stop the disruption of education: 
  • Face coverings to be worn, in line with Government requirements, by pupils and staff in secondary communal areas and by primary staff in communal areas. This should be extended to secondary classrooms for staff and students. No member of staff in any setting should be prevented from wearing a face covering in any part of the premises.  
  • Children who have a sibling or other household member with Covid-19 should not attend school/college until they have had a negative PCR test - as in Scotland - in addition to the Government guidance of 10-day isolation on close contacts of confirmed or suspected Omicron cases. 
  • The Government should change its ventilation guidance to state that classrooms must keep CO2 below 800 ppm, as advocated by the HSE and should invest urgently in air filtration devices. Sage first highlighted the importance of ventilation in schools in May 2020; Government has failed to act on their advice. 
  • Measures such as one-way routes and staggered break times should be urgently reintroduced to minimise mixing between classes and year groups wherever possible.  
  • Government to issue guidance to all schools and colleges on safe organisation of gatherings and meetings, including options for social distancing or virtual events, based on factors including local case rates, outbreaks in the school/college itself, quality of ventilation and space available.  
  • In addition, Government should encourage schools and colleges to allow staff to book vaccines and boosters during working hours without loss of pay and launch a campaign to encourage twice weekly testing for all staff and pupils. Government should also mandate provision of 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.