Commenting on the latest coronavirus survey figures from the Office for National Statistics, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said:
“The latest ONS Coronavirus survey figures should be very worrying to the Government - especially in the run up to Christmas. They show that cases are again rising in secondary and primary schools.
“Secondary children in years 7 to year 11 have the highest rate of any of the demographic groups - with more than 2% of children having the virus. This is significantly higher than the university student age group, now returning home with such care.
“Primary and early years children - from age 2 to year 6 - are the third highest of the demographic groups with around 1% of children having the virus. Many of the cases are asymptomatic - but this does not mean that they cannot transmit the virus to others, especially in the close confines of the household.
“The only other age group with rising cases is 35-49 year olds - and that is the age group with most parents of school-aged children.
“Government must speak about these figures and act on them.
“It is welcome, though overdue, that mass testing is to be rolled out in some areas. But there are many boroughs where cases are higher than in the boroughs in London, Kent and Essex where the roll-out is to happen.
“The Government should commit now to a roll out of mass testing across the country, not just in the South East. The testing should also happen in primary schools.
“We predict that when this testing happens many children will have to be sent home on public health advice. This will lead in practice to a chaotic closure in the last week of term.
“The Government would have been much better advised to have encouraged schools to prepare for on-line learning in the last week of term. That would have resulted in lower cases before the holidays began and could have been planned. However, the Government set its face hard against this, instructing schools contemplating it to change their plans.
“The Government ignored our call for a ‘circuit break’ to include schools, which has been shown to suppress the virus much more quickly. They have ignored our call for secondary schools to run on a rota basis which can keep cases lower whilst keeping children learning.
“As a result, many parents have seen their children sent home for multiple periods on public health advice.
“We need much better from the Government in the New Year, if the chaotic pattern is not to continue and even get worse.”