Commenting on the publication by the Office for National Statistics of Covid-19 School Infection Survey Round 1, England: November 2020 (1), the joint general secretaries of the National Education Union, Kevin Courtney and Dr Mary Bousted, said: 

“The National Education Union is committed to following the science and we welcome the publication of the School Infection Survey (SIS) by the Office for National Statistics.

“For us, the central finding of the School Infection Survey is that the rates amongst pupils in schools and the staff, who work with them, are very close. This is what you would expect if pupils were transmitting to and receiving from staff. This finding should not come as a surprise given the difficulty of social distancing in our crowded classrooms and the absence of PPE in the classroom setting.

“Combined with the higher rates amongst school age students this is a significant finding which requires action by the Government to ensure the safety of school staff.

“We are writing to the Secretary of State today outlining action that we believe he must take, including the inclusion of school staff on the priority list for vaccination alongside their NHS and social care colleagues.

“We believe that the interpretation being put on the survey by the media, that it shows that coronavirus rates simply mirror those in the community is unsupported by the facts in the report itself - as well as by more recent evidence.

“The ONS Coronavirus Infection Survey published weekly shows that cases are rising in school aged children whilst declining in all other age groups, so schools are not simply a mirror of the community.

“Indeed, Matt Hancock last week introduced mass testing into some schools in London, Kent, and Essex precisely because they were centres of viral transmission.

“The SIS report itself acknowledges that it understates the number of school aged children, and staff, who have the virus - because it only looks at children and staff who were actually in school that week. Background information to the report states, ‘A direct comparison between the CIS and the unweighted Schools Survey is complex. The CIS data includes information from randomly selected members of the population and who may or may not be exhibiting symptoms. There is a presumption those individuals who are selected for the SIS will not be showing symptoms, as they would then not be attending school.’

“In the weeks the SIS was carried out, around 8% of pupils were absent from school because they had a confirmed case of coronavirus, a suspected case or had been in contact with a case. In addition, about 8% of teachers were absent.”

The full text of our letter to Gavin Williamson follows: 

17 December 2020

Dear Gavin

We are deeply concerned by the initial findings of the School Infection Survey, which show a close correlation in infection rates between pupils and school staff. 

This is yet further evidence that schools are one community, and that coronavirus is passing between staff and pupils and vice versa. The survey’s findings challenge all the previous reassurances that children do not transmit the virus.  Children are transmitting COVID to school staff as well as their parents. This is no surprise given the difficulty of social distancing in our crowded classrooms and the absence of effective PPE in school settings.

Further, since the School Infection Survey was conducted, the regular ONS Coronavirus Infection Survey shows that there have been increases in infection rates amongst school age children compared with the general population. Secondary pupils, Year 7 to Year 11, have higher rates than any other segment of the population, primary pupils the third highest after only the university age group.

Taking these two facts together we have reason to believe that school staff will also have amongst the highest rates of infection in the population.

Therefore, caution must be exercised over the health of school staff.

Consequently, we are now calling on you to ensure the safety of school staff, and as a by-product to help secure continuity of education, by including school staff on the vaccination priority order alongside health and social care staff.  We believe it would be practical to vaccinate all pupil-facing education staff aged over 45, as well as all those with other vulnerabilities, in the first few weeks of next term.

Until vaccination does happen, we believe clinically extremely vulnerable staff, at least, must be allowed to work from home.  In addition, clinically vulnerable staff, at least should be allowed and encouraged to wear medical grade face masks.

We would like to discuss this with you as a matter of urgency, and we repeat to you our demand that you publish the number of education staff that have tested positive, the number who have been hospitalised and the number who have died since the wider opening of schools in September.

The issues raised in this letter are so important to our members that we are making it public.

With best wishes                    

Mary Bousted                                                                 Kevin Courtney 

Joint General Secretary                                                   Joint General Secretary

ENDS

Editor’s Note 

  1. https://www.ons.gov.uk/releases/covid19schoolsinfectionsurveyround1englandnovember2020 

2020-241-NEU

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