Unions press ministers to publish data supporting end of restrictions in schools
Education leaders have criticised the Government’s plan to scrap school bubbles on July 19 alongside all legal coronavirus restrictions despite case numbers continuing to rise.
Union bosses demanded the Government publish the data that supports ending restrictions in schools, including the controversial policy of isolating whole year groups if one child tests positive for Covid-19.
But some supported the planned changes, arguing they would reduce “disruption” of education.
Boris Johnson confirmed in a press conference that Step 4 of the easing of lockdown restrictions would go ahead as planned on July 19, including the removal of school safety measures.
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “We must seriously question the wisdom of the Government’s decision to take away so many safety measures.
“The Government should publish the results of its trials on daily contact testing as an alternative to self-isolation before changing the system.
Dr Bousted said the Government should support schools by organising regular testing, improving classroom ventilation, and recognising long Covid as a disability ahead of the start of the academic year in September.
She said: “Gavin Williamson has asked school and college leaders to be patient in their wait for guidance, but it is simply not good enough to leave so much unresolved when so little of the summer term remains.
“The Education Secretary promised head teachers full clarity the moment Step 4 of the road map was reached, so there will be considerable anger and concern if he does not make good on his word.
“This is not a Government which oversees, but one which overlooks. It has failed to take account of the alarming deterioration in self-testing numbers among school-age children.”
Dr Bousted added cases in schools had risen “significantly” since the Government removed mask requirements in mid-May and accused Westminster of “neglectful and reckless decision making”.
She said: “Schools and colleges quite obviously need the backing of Government to ensure their workplace remains safe.
“The Government appears to have no concern for other eventualities, pinning everything on hope. Schools and colleges have been through this several times before and leaders will be appalled that yet again so little is being done to support them.”
Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “To maintain public confidence the Government need to explain clearly to parents and schools alike why arrangements we were told were critical to maintaining pupil safety until now are no longer needed going forward, despite the soaring infection rates in schools.
“No school wants to see restrictions in place any longer than they have to be, but we must ensure that in relaxing rules now we do not create further longer term disruption in the months to come.”
But Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the ASCL was pleased the bubble system would be removed because it would reduce disruption to students’ education by stopping large groups being sent home at the same time.
He said: “The current requirement for close contacts of positive cases to be traced and asked to self-isolate is resulting in significant educational disruption on top of the disruption that children and young people have already experienced over the past 15 months.
“Given the rollout of the vaccine programme to the adult population it is no longer acceptable that children and young people should continue to pay such a heavy price in managing transmission of the virus.
“We look forward to the Education Secretary’s statement tomorrow about exactly how the rules for schools and colleges will change.”
The best videos delivered daily
Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox