Commenting on Safe Schools, a new consultation guidance document from Independent SAGE with recommendations for getting down infections in schools, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: 

“This is a welcome intervention by Independent SAGE, which once again exposes the enormous blind-spot that Government has towards schools. Today’s consultation document raises many issues which must now be seriously considered. It is quite clear that schools and colleges need much stronger safety measures.

“There are ways in which schools can be made safer. We gave the Government a roadmap in June, including advice on expanding school sites to get class sizes down, encouraging teachers back from retirement, and a proper, effective test track and trace system. They have delivered on none of this, and have instead given schools late guidance, a helpline that provides inconsistent messages, and the staggering suggestion just this week that NEU members should “hold their nerve” as staff and pupil attendance deteriorates and schools struggle to remain operational. Schools have been abandoned by this Government.

“Bubbles in secondary schools must now be reduced in size – they were always too large and have inevitably led to significant disruption when new Covid cases emerge. A system of rotas may not be ideal, but it is inescapable that more needs to be done to ensure education is sustainable as we emerge from lockdown – particularly in areas of high risk.

“There is no sign of a rethink, but there really has to be. Schools and colleges are now a major centre of transmission of Covid and ministers cannot continue to duck the issue. The Government is blindly pressing on doing very little if anything to keep schools as safe as they need to be.  Its lack of positive action is causing confusion, secrecy, mistrust, fear, demoralisation and exhaustion.”