At the 80th Meeting of SAGE on 11th February (1), SAGE recommended the phased reopening of schools. They said, “60. There are a number of uncertainties in the modelling including the potential network implications of reopening schools. A phased reopening would allow the effects to be assessed which would be particularly valuable if schools were one of the first things to reopen, as there will be more uncertainties in the early stages of releasing measures (e.g. around the impact of vaccines).”   

At the SPI-M-O meeting on 27th January (2), the committee said, 

“5. An initial, limited, and cautious reopening of schools (e.g. primary schools only) for a time limited period, in the absence of easing other restrictions, would allow for an assessment of the impact on community transmission.”

At the SPI-M-O meeting on 10th February (3), the committee estimated that the full reopening of schools would raise R by between 40 and 60%. They estimated that reopening primary schools would only increase R by 10%.   

Yesterday, the Office for National Statistics released their report Coronavirus (COVID-19) Infection Survey: characteristics of people testing positive for COVID-19 in England (4) which showed that teachers and other education professionals have the fourth highest risk of infection from coronavirus. This contradicts the many reassurances school staff have been given by Government that they are not at great risk of infection.   

Commenting on these extracts, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general S=secretary of the National Education Union, said:  

“Time and again in this pandemic the Government have not followed the science, closing schools too late and then opening them too early.   

“The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments are reopening their schools in a phased way as SAGE have recommended. This is the sensible way forward for England, too. We all want to see schools and colleges open, but it must be done sustainably.   

“Boris Johnson has pressed ahead with this gamble on the wider opening of schools and colleges in one swoop and ignored the advice for a phased return. To mitigate against this and prevent another lockdown it is incumbent now for Government to ensure robust safety measures are in place in our schools and colleges. Testing and the wearing of face masks in secondary-school and college classrooms is a step forward, but we also need to see the issues of ventilation in classrooms and PPE for staff addressed in these coming weeks.  

"The Prime Minister said the wider opening of schools is a national priority. He needs to treat it as such and do what is necessary to make it work. This will ensure school staff, pupils, families and the wider community are protected, and the R rate is kept down."  


Editor’s note