Commenting on the announcement by Matt Hancock during today’s Downing Street briefing, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said:
“Finally, the Government has woken up to the fact that schools are a major centre of transmission for Covid. This has been glaringly obvious for weeks. Rolling out testing in these two areas is a start, but the Prime Minister needs to urgently address those other parts of the country where infection rates remain high.
“Parents will welcome this news, but they will at the same time recognise the Government's pattern of behaviour when it comes to schools. This follows hot on the heels of their ludicrous last-minute suggestion that 18 December should become an Inset day, demonstrating a quite staggering disconnect between ministers and the lived experience of schools.
“Case counts would not be so extreme in schools if Government had agreed to the early closing of schools and a take-up in online learning ahead of Christmas, and if they had followed our suggestions about secondary schools moving to rota operation. The decision to move all secondary teaching online in Wales is a much more robust response to an increasingly worrying situation.
“The highest rates of infection amongst school age children have shifted from the North to London and surrounding areas, and the current rate of coronavirus infection amongst 10 to 14 years old in some areas is clearly awful. Runnymede has the highest rate at 1,169 per 100,000 people, but the amount by which the rate is accelerating is also alarming. In Runnymede the rate of infection has increased by 27 times since the start of the lockdown.
“Our primary members will also be concerned that they have not been included in the roll out, when absence rates have been rising amongst that age group throughout autumn term. Like school leaders across the country, they will not appreciate yet another announcement which raises more questions than it answers.”