Commenting on today’s press briefing in which the Prime Minister announced ‘Plan B’ measures, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:
“We are disappointed that in his announcement the Prime Minister has made no mention of schools, given that cases are rising so fast and this is leading to so much disruption of education. More than 200,000 pupils were absent for Covid-related reasons on 25 November and since then infection rates among school-age children have risen further.
“It is clear that current mitigations are not enough to keep at bay rising case counts, especially in the new context of the fast-spreading Omicron variant. The National Education Union put out its own Plan B for schools earlier today, and we think Boris Johnson must act now to minimise the disruption of education.
“We have called for the following mitigations
- 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.
- 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.
“The Prime Minister must act. We need a plan B for schools and colleges now.”
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