Call for Lancashire schools to stay shut early in new year to reduce post-Christmas Covid spread
Lancashire school lessons should move online for the first few days of the next term in order to prevent any Covid infections acquired during the relaxation of mixing rules over Christmas from circulating in the classroom - and spreading through communities.
That is the call from the man who represents the county on the country's largest teaching union.
Ian Watkinson - the National Education Union's national executive member for Lancashire and Merseyside - says that the government should also have allowed schools to end the current term earlier this week in recognition of the potential risk of transmission of the virus during the festive period by pupils who may have picked it up in the final days of attending school before the break. Ministers threatened councils in London who planned to make such a move with court action.
However, Mr. Watkinson urged the government to change its stance on the post-Christmas return to school - by implementing remote learning for all but vulnerable and key worker children.
“Without an urgent rethink, thousands will carry the virus back into our schools on 4th January after increased contacts as a result of relaxed rules over Christmas. The virus will spread again in schools and then be taken back home and transmitted among families and local communities.
“School isolations - and major disruption for parents and children’s learning - will inevitably continue, as will hospital admissions and, tragically, deaths.
“If government won’t act nationally...Lancashire County Council, academy trusts and respective church dioceses must put school and community safety first and insist that schools move to remote learning until 7th January at the earliest - 10 days after [the Christmas window closes on] 27th December - or, as many scientists have recommended, 18th January,” said Mr. Watkinson, who also chair’s the NEU’s national health and safety group and is secretary for the Preston district..
However, a spokesperson for the county council said it did not have the power to offer flexibility over the issue.
"The government has made very clear that children's education is a national priority and Lancashire schools have done a fantastic job throughout the pandemic to ensure children can continue to receive their education.
"We are continuing to work closely with schools to ensure they can stay open, and remain contactable until 23 December, after closing for Christmas, to ensure contacts of newly- confirmed cases can be alerted.
"We understand that families will want to take advantage of any relaxation of the coronavirus restrictions over Christmas, but regardless of the restrictions in place at any particular time, it's important that everyone continues to play their part to reduce infection levels by following the guidance to limit social contact with other households, as well as washing their hands, wearing a face covering where required and giving other people space."
Meanwhile, the government has announced that fast-turnaround Covid tests will be made to available to schools from next month. All staff in secondary schools and colleges will be eligible for weekly lateral flow tests as part of an initial rollout.
Students and staff will be eligible for daily testing for seven days if they are identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive. Under current guidelines, up to a whole school bubble has to self-isolate if one student or staff member tests positive. From January, those in the same bubble do not need to self-isolate if they agree to be tested once a day, the Department for Education has announced.
Rapid testing will be extended to primary schools diuring the spring term, under the plans.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: "This huge expansion of rapid testing for those working in education is a milestone moment in our work to keep schools and colleges open for all.
"I know it has taken a phenomenal effort from everyone to ensure approximately 99% of schools have been open each week since the start of term.
"Testing on this scale brings real benefits to education, it means more children, teachers and staff can stay in their classes in schools and colleges without the need to self-isolate."