Teachers brace for new Covid spikes and ‘inevitable’ disruption as school returns

Teachers brace for new Covid spikes and ‘inevitable’ disruption as school returns
‘I don’t see how a large spike in cases can be avoided once term is underway,’ one deputy headteacher says

Schools are bracing for new 冠状病毒病 spikes and “inevitable” disruption as pupils prepare to head back to class after the summer holidays.

The new school year is set to start this week for many students across England, with self-isolation rules relaxed for under-18s since the last time they were in school.

But despite this change, teachers are still preparing for more disruption to education this term.

Michael Tidd, a primary school headteacher, 告诉 独立 the current guidance suggests schools “just go back pretty much to normal”.

“I fear that the next few weeks are going to see me back on the treadmill of managing the fallout of the virus, whether that’s providing online access to learning for increasing numbers of individual children isolating, or covering for staff who become infected themselves,“ 他说.

“It seems that particularly in primary schools we are without mitigation: children are not vaccinated, they’re not routinely tested, but they’re also not immune.”

The vaccine rollout currently extends only to 16-year-olds and above, with only 12 to 15-year-olds who are most at risk from Covid or who live with people at-risk eligible to be jabbed.

Downing Street said on Tuesday it was not too late to arrange a vaccination drive to go alongside the return to school if government advisors give the green light for younger children to be vaccinated.

Mr Tidd, from Sussex, 告诉 独立 he is not sure of what the next term will bring.

“But I feel pretty certain that it won’t be anything like the return to normality that we keep being promised,“ 他加了.

Jonathan Mounstevens, a deputy headteacher in Hertfordshire, 告诉 独立: “I think students and staff are crying out for education free from disruption.

“My concern is that I don’t see how a large spike in cases can be avoided once term is underway, with no effective means of minimising transmission in schools.”

他说: “As soon as absence levels start to climb, disruption becomes inevitable.

Government scientific advisers have warned it is “highly likely” that Covid cases will rise among schoolchildren as the new term starts, with vaccination having “made almost no difference” in school-attending age groups over the summer holidays.

In Scotland, ministers have suggested the school return earlier this month contributed to a rise in Covid cases, with the country recording a record daily infection figure at the weekend.

Speaking about the rise in cases last week, John Swinney, the deputy first minister, 说: “Undoubtedly the gathering of people together in schools will have fuelled that to some extent. You can see that in the proportion of younger people who are testing positive.”

In its 陈述 on the return to school and Covid, the UK government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, Operational sub-group said: “When schools reopen, the mitigations in place to limit transmission within schools will be much reduced compared to the spring and summer terms.

“此外, the prevalence of infection in the community and school-age groups will be higher than in May 2021.

Pepe Di’Iasio, a headteacher in Sheffield told 独立: “I do have concerns regarding rising rates of Covid but know that we have protocols in place to protect and support our community.”

But Catherine Wilson in Wiltshire, who is involved in the campaign group Parents United, 告诉 独立 she was “very apprehensive” about the return to school, given “sky high” local rates.

Her son fell ill with suspected Covid last year shortly after schools returned.

“I am very concerned that suddenly he will be going back to a largely unmitigated environment without any of his vulnerabilities being taken into account,”她告诉 独立.

Secondary school pupils in England are being urged to get tested – and vaccinated where possible – to stop coronavirus spreading and minimise disruption to lessons, while schools are being encouraged to maintain increased hygiene and ventilation from September.

But advice to keep children in “bubbles” – set groups to minimise contact with others – was scrapped in mid-July, while the recommendation that older pupils wear face coverings was dropped in May.

Under-18s – as well as people who have been double jabbed – have stopped having to self-isolate after coming into contact with someone with Covid, 与 rules changing over the summer holidays.

Geoff Barton from the Association for School and College Leaders (ASCL) 告诉 独立: “It does appear risky on the part of the government to have removed the majority of the mitigations that were in place in schools and colleges during the summer term, just as scientists are warning there could be an exponential rise in coronavirus cases among students.”

Allen Tsui, a parent and teacher, 告诉 独立 he was “optimistic” that schools are prepared to minimise any potential disruption in the future as best as possible.

“I personally expect that there will be a return to home schooling for some at some point during the school year,“ 他说.

“The extent to which that needs to be, for whom and when is where the uncertainty lies.”

超过 40 per cent of parents said they were not looking forward to their children going back to school amid fears they could bring Covid back home in a recent survey by INEOS Hygienics, a hand sanitiser producer.

The Department for Education spokesperson said: “Education remains a national priority, and the success of the vaccine programme means schools and colleges will deliver high-quality, face-to-face education to their pupils, with minimal disruption.

“That is why the measures in place strike the right balance between making schools safe – with enhanced ventilation, Covid testing and vaccinations of older students and staff – and reducing disruption by removing bubbles and face coverings.”

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