Schools should not be responsible for policing jabs for pupils, says union

(Ben Birchall/PA) (PA Archive)
17:42pm, Wed 04 Aug 2021
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Schools should not have any responsibility for promoting, enforcing or policing vaccination of pupils, a union has said.

School leaders’ union NAHT said UK policy on jabs for children should be led by clinicians.

An announcement on a recommendation to extend the Covid-19 vaccination programme to 16 and 17-year-olds is expected soon.

Schools should not carry any responsibility for vaccination promotion, enforcement or policing

Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary, said: “The debate about whether or not to vaccinate older children has been raging for many weeks. NAHT has always said that UK policy on child vaccination should be led by clinicians.

“To the extent that any such policy is controversial it is clear that schools should not carry any responsibility for vaccination promotion, enforcement or policing.”

He said Covid remains a worry for school leaders, given the large numbers of absences related to the virus last term.

A record 1.13 million children in England were out of school for Covid-19 related reasons towards the end of term, recent Government figures showed.

The figures included 994,000 children self-isolating due to a possible contact with a Covid-19 case, 48,000 pupils with a confirmed case of coronavirus, and 33,300 with a suspected case.

A further 50,700 pupils were off as a result of school closures due to Covid-related reasons, the Department for Education (DfE) statistics showed.

I’m sure many parents, with their youngsters, will think at last we’re starting to give a real sense of priority to young people’s education

Mr Whiteman said: “Regardless of the extent that young people might suffer directly from the virus, the large numbers of pupils absent from school at the end of last term showed that Covid still has the power to affect the quality and continuity of the education they receive.

“That is a continuing worry for school leaders.

“Pupils will return to schools next month, and the Government needs to take every possible step to prevent transmission of the virus amongst people in school communities, no matter their age.

“As ever, it will be a matter of public confidence in whatever these measures are deemed to be, so the Government also has a duty to communicate carefully and clearly in order to avoid any more unnecessary disruption and missed education for pupils.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said extending the jabs rollout would reduce disruption to schooling.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “Anything that gives the reassurance to young people that they are being treated in the way that the adult population is and that their education won’t be disrupted to the extent it has been – that has to be welcomed.

“I’m sure many parents, with their youngsters, will think at last we’re starting to give a real sense of priority to young people’s education.”

He said generally he thinks “young people feel they’ve been let down educationally”.

He added: “If this is one way we can get rid of that disruption I think we will see a great sense of a lot of young people, not all, but a lot of young people thinking, ‘Actually, I’m going to have the vaccine, just like my mum or my dad has’.”

Mr Barton suggested vaccination for younger pupils could also be considered.

In a statement, he said: “The question of offering routine vaccinations for 12 to 15-year-olds must also be kept under review, and if the emerging evidence suggests that the benefits outweigh any risks then the Government must be ready to act accordingly, because this could help in reducing educational disruption for this age group.”

In the meantime, he urged the Government to do more to help younger age groups when it comes to potential virus transmission in schools.

He said: “Two immediate steps should be investment in high-quality ventilation systems in education settings, and more support for the on-site asymptomatic testing the Government is expecting secondary schools and colleges to provide at the start of the autumn term.”

Echoing this call for more support from Government, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said jabs for older teens do not “mitigate the need for additional safety measures to continue to be in place in schools and colleges”.

She added: “With the autumn and winter terms coming up, the issue of crowded schools with no social distancing and inadequate ventilation remains a problem.

“Measures such as CO2 monitors are needed to check if ventilation is adequate. If it isn’t, and if the only way of ensuring adequate ventilation is through air filtration devices, then funding needs to be made available to purchase them.”

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