As the prime minister announced a four-week lockdown in England to tackle the Coronavirus, the National Education Union called for schools and colleges to be included in the restrictions.
Boris Johnson has imposed a national lockdown from Thursday November which will be reviewed on 2 December, but education establishments are exempt from the lockdown unlike in March when schools closed for six months to most pupils apart from those deemed vulnerable as well as the children of key workers.
However, the NEU states that schools and colleges should be closed to pupils other than vulnerable children and those whose parents are keyworkers. Pointing to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union said: “It is clear from ONS data that schools are an engine for virus transmission. It would be self-defeating for the government to impose a national lockdown, whilst ignoring the role of schools as a major contributor to the spread of the virus.”
“Such a lockdown would impose pain on the whole community - but not be as effective as it could be if schools were included. Ignoring the role of schools and colleges in the spread of the virus is likely to lead to the need for even longer lockdowns in future,” he added.
Mr Courtney said the ONS figures showed that the latest figures from the ONS estimate that 1% of primary pupils and 2% of secondary pupils have the virus and that these levels have increased dramatically since wider opening in September. NEU analysis of ONS figures shows that virus levels are now nine times higher amongst primary pupils and an astonishing 50 times higher amongst secondary pupils.
The ONS figures published on 30 November state:
- There has been growth in all age groups over the past two weeks; older teenagers and young adults continue to have the highest current rates while rates appear to be steeply increasing among secondary school children.
- There has been growth in positivity in all age groups over the past two weeks. Older teenagers and young adults continue to have the highest positivity rates, while rates appear to be steeply increasing among secondary school children, it adds.
Mr Courtney said: “The National Education Union called for a two week circuit break over half term to include schools, which the Wales Government and the Northern Ireland assembly have done - but the government in Westminster has ignored this call. More severe measures are now called for as a result, the government should not make this mistake again.
“The government should include all schools in proposals for an immediate national lockdown and as a minimum be preparing for school rotas at the end of that period, including by actually meeting its promise to deliver broadband and equipment to those children who do not have them.
“It is also vital that the government ensure proper financial support for all those affected by lockdown including crucial supply teachers and other staff,” he concluded.
ONS Coronavirus (COVID-19) Infection Survey, UK: 30 October 2020