Monday, July 4, 2022

Unions demand return to school bubbles and masks in classrooms

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Bubbles, face masks, social distancing and other Covid protection measures are needed to stop coronavirus ‘surging’ through schools, unions said.
Secondary school pupils are catching Covid at the fastest rate among Brits (Picture: Getty)

Bubbles, face masks, social distancing and other protection measures are needed to stop coronavirus ‘surging’ through schools, unions said.

Schools are largely operating as normal after compulsory measures were scrapped for the start of the new academic year.

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Five education unions wrote to education secretary Nadhim Zahawi urging him to look at bringing them back as official figures showed children had the highest Covid positivity rate for any age group.

One in every 15 pupils aged 11-16 had the virus in the week to October 2 – up from one in 20 the week before.

The National Education Union expressed ‘concerns’ that the government was ‘standing by while Covid cases surge across schools’.

General secretary Kevin Courtney said: ‘It is evident that more needs to be done, and sooner rather than later, to prevent further massive disruption to children’s education, caused either by children contracting Covid-19 or Covid-related staff absence.’

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Unite said infection levels in schools ‘demanded the whole range of measures to be deployed’.

Along with Unison, GMB and the NASUWT teachers’ union, they have written to councils and public health directors asking them to consider imposing local rules.

Notices advising hand sanitising and social distancing is seen on a wall as the school is prepared to provide a teaching environment safe from Coronavirus for pupils and teachers at St Luke's Church Of England Primary School in London on September 1, 2020, as the school readies itself for the start of school on September 3. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)
Notices advising hand sanitising and social distancing at St Luke’s CoE Primary in London (Picture: AFP)
CHERTSEY, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 09: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) Pupils collect lunch in the canteen on their first day back from lockdown at Chertsey High School on March 09, 2021 in Chertsey, United Kingdom. Chertsey High school, which is part of the Bourne Education Trust, is continuing to conduct lateral flow testing within the school every 3 to five days until all children who have consented have completed three tests, before being asked to complete the tests at home. England's schools re-opened to pupils from March 8th, 2021 after closing for a third lockdown on January 5th, 2021. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Pupils collect lunch in the canteen on their first day back from lockdown at Chertsey High School in March (Picture: Getty)

Last week councils in Staffordshire and Wolverhampton told schools to reintroduce classroom bubbles and face coverings in crowded places.

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Mr Zahawi has said rules on mask-wearing may be needed again this winter.

But the government is likely to be reluctant to reintroduce wider restrictions in schools after the huge amount of lost learning they caused.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 04: A member of staff wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) takes a child's temperature at the Harris Academy's Shortland's school on June 04, 2020 in London, England. As part of Covid-19 lockdown measures, Harris Academy schools have taught smaller pods of students, to help maintain social distancing measures. With restrictions now lifting and the Government encouraging schools to re-open, the school staff has been working to find the best way to provide extra spaces while still retaining the correct social distancing measures and cleanliness requirements. This week, some schools across England reopened for some students, with children in reception, Year 1 and Year 6 allowed to return first. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Temperature checks were used to help schools reopen safely earlier this year (Picture: Getty)

The policy of sending entire classes home if one pupil tested positive was singled out for criticism.

Professor Calum Semple, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) which advises the government, suggested pupils could be heading for herd immunity to Covid through infection at the current high rates.

Pupils attend a mathematics lesson at Colwich Church of England Primary School's new outdoor learning space, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Colwich, Staffordshire, Britain May 10, 2021. REUTERS/Jason Cairnduff
Colwich Primary School is Staffordshire is one of those being recommended to reintroduce some Covid measures to deal with rising infections (Picture: Reuters)

He told the BBC’s Today programme: ‘Commentators would usually say it’s ridiculous to aim for herd immunity using natural wild-type infection because that brings with it disease and damage to children both from acute disease and potentially long Covid.’

Most children in England aged 12-15 are being offered one dose of the Pfizer vaccine by immunisation teams at schools.

MORE : Return to Covid restrictions as hundreds of schools told to ‘prepare for bubbles’

MORE : California announces US’s first Covid vaccine mandate for K-12 students

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