Schools in England are starting to close again as head teachers impose their own ‘circuit breakers’ and send children home to learn remotely ahead of Christmas amid a surge in Covid cases.
St Mary’s Church of England Primary in Credenhill, Hereford shut for a week yesterday despite implementing a deep cleaning regime, increased handwashing and sanitising, compulsory PPE, separated year groups and staggered playtimes and lunches.
Head teacher Bernadette Davies wrote to families to explain that ‘the purpose of this break is to act as a ”circuit breaker” and cease the transmission of Covid-19 throughout the school’.
Darwen Aldridge Enterprise Studio, a secondary school in Lancashire which teaches pupils aged 13 to 19, has also told families that their children will be learning remotely until at least next Thursday ‘in light of the number of cases and the advice given’.
And a primary in Essex urged parents to get their children tested for Covid after five cases were detected. Writing to families on behalf of Essex County Council, the school said pupils should stay home if their PCR test is positive or if the child develops Covid symptoms.
Current guidance from the Department for Education states that in ‘extreme cases, and as a last resort where all other risk mitigations have not broken chains of in-school transmission’, a director of public health ‘may advise introducing short-term attendance restrictions’.
When schools returned in September many restrictions including bubbles and isolation periods were scrapped and secondary students and staff were told they no longer had to wear facemasks.
However, the return to remote education will mean that parents who can work from home may have to. Those parents who can no longer work from home will either have to take time off – whether annual leave or unpaid – or find friends, family or other childcare.
The measures have also sparked fears among parents that a return to remote learning in the run-up to Christmas could be a precursor to tighter restrictions at schools this winter and a return to more general pandemic curbs across the country.
The parent campaign group UsForThem, which battled to get schools open during the pandemic, said that remote learning was a ‘failed experiment’ and ‘not one that we should be repeating in the context of a nearly fully vaccinated adult population’.
St Mary’s Church of England Primary in Credenhill, Hereford shut for a week yesterday despite implementing a deep cleaning regime, increased handwashing and sanitising, compulsory PPE, separated year groups and staggered playtimes and lunches
Darwen Aldridge Enterprise Studio, a secondary school in Lancashire which teaches pupils aged 13 to 19, has also told families that their children will be learning remotely until at least next Thursday ‘in light of the number of cases and the advice given’
Left: Molly Kingsley, of parent group UsForThem, said: ‘It’s time we let our children get on with living their lives’. Right: Education Select Committee chairman Robert Halfon is backing a Bill which would seek to prevent ministers from easily closing schools again
When schools returned in September many restrictions including bubbles and isolation periods were scrapped and secondary students and staff were told they no longer had to wear facemasks (stock image)
Some 42,484 infections were recorded in the last 24 hours, up 14.1 per cent on the 37,243 positive tests registered last Tuesday
Crushing price of lockdown: Devastating audit shows how a year of restrictions left poorer pupils struggling to cope
The devastating impact of lockdowns on disadvantaged children is laid bare in research showing they were twice as likely to struggle with home schooling.
The figures show one in five poorer pupils did not cope and many spent some days doing no work at all.
A Daily Mail audit of studies during the pandemic shows children have lost at least six months of normal, in-person lessons, translating to an estimated £40,000 loss in lifetime earnings if they do not catch up.
All youngsters are behind in their learning by at least one month, with primary school pupils lagging in maths by an average of three months.
Schools were ordered to close on Friday, March 20, last year. Three lockdowns were imposed over the following 12 months, meaning children had to try to learn at home.
Many schools were slow to lay on adequate online lessons and, at the start of the pandemic, more than a million youngsters did not even have a laptop or tablet.
A survey of families in January and February found 18 per cent of those living in poverty struggled to cope with online learning. This compared with just 9 per cent of better-off children.
One snap poll found one in ten poor pupils had done no work that day – compared with just one in 20 better-off pupils. By this February half-term, a third of poor parents rated their experience of home schooling as ‘low’, compared with just a quarter of other parents.
Three in five deprived parents ‘sometimes’ or ‘often’ had trouble understanding home learning tasks, compared with only two in five other parents.
The study, involving 1,200 households across 75 primary schools, is called the Big Lockdown Learning Parent Survey, and is funded by the Education Endowment Foundation.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimated children lost at least half a year of normal, in-person schooling by the February half-term. It said the average child could lose £40,000 from their lifetime’s income unless they are helped to catch up.
Elsewhere, the Education Policy Institute found all children are at least one month behind in their learning because of the pandemic.
Arabella Skinner told The Telegraph: ‘As the experience of last year shows, these isolated cases of school closures don’t stay isolated for long.
‘The worry is that in the run up to Christmas we will see more examples of this. For how much longer are we going to ask our children to stay second class citizens?’
And Molly Kingsley said: ‘We’re deeply saddened to see schools closing due to Covid. Kids have missed out on so much face-to-face time this year that they just need to be back in their classrooms and with their friends, learning and being children.
‘To close schools at a time when adults are about to be enjoying Christmas parties and mixing seems especially unfair. It’s time we let our children get on with living their lives.’
The disruption to education caused by Covid restrictions has caused former minister to call for a school triple lock to be introduced to prevent the Government being able to shut down classrooms again.
A new Ten Minute Rule Bill championed by Robert Halfon, the Conservative chairman of the Education Select Committee, seeks to redefine schools as ‘essential infrastructure’ to ensure they remain open during any future public health or national emergencies.
Colin Grand, principal of Darwen Aldridge, told the Manchester Evening News: ‘Like all small schools even a slight increase in staff testing positive for Covid has a significant impact on our ability to deliver face to face lessons.
‘In conjunction with PHE, the DfE and Covid guidelines we have taken the difficult decision to build in a short circuit break and move towards remote learning until 2nd December when we hope to welcome our staff and pupils back.’
Covid cases continued to rise across the UK but deaths and hospital admissions fell, as the country’s epidemic becomes increasingly unpredictable.
Some 42,484 infections were recorded in the last 24 hours, up 14.1 per cent on the 37,243 positive tests registered last Tuesday.
Meanwhile, hospitalisations fell by 12.9 per cent week-on-week, with 826 infected-Britons seeking NHS care on Thursday, the latest date figures are available for.
And daily Covid fatalities fell 22.9 per cent on last week, with 165 people dying within 28 days of testing positive for the virus.
Hundreds of schools across England have been cancelling assemblies as Covid continues to rip through classrooms.
Primaries and secondaries in Wiltshire and Staffordshire have already scrapped them completely under the orders of their local councils.
Head teachers in the areas have also been advised to bring back other restrictions such as mandatory face masks indoors and staggered break times.
But schools elsewhere in the country are beginning to take matters into their own hands in a bid to clamp down on rising infections.
Thurston Community College in Essex yesterday became the latest to deviate from official guidance, cancelling assemblies and making face coverings compulsory.
Both schools which this term closed in a Covid ‘circuit breaker’ have told the pupils that they will be learning remotely in the meantime
North and south divide. Scotland is roaring ahead with rolling out the first dose of the Covid vaccine to 12-to-15-year-olds compared to England. All 10 of the best performing areas were north of the border with England hosting the bottom 10, the majority of which are in London
Hundreds of schools are told to be ‘proactive’ and bring back suite of Covid curbs
Schools have been instructed by councils to bring in a suite of stricter Covid curbs in response to rising infections among pupils.
Hundreds of primaries and secondaries in Staffordshire were urged to be ‘proactive’ and not wait on official guidance from the Government.
The county’s council has encouraged bringing back facemasks and year group bubbles and scrapping assemblies and staff meetings. It also recommended schools stagger starting and break times to limit mixing in corridors and the playground.
Staffordshire County Council, which covers more than 400 schools, is believed to be the first to promote reintroducing such a comprehensive set of measures.
Other local authorities have brought back light measures like mask-wearing, including Cumbria and parts of Northamptonshire.
Pupils whose family member tests positive are advised to ‘stay at home pending PCR test result’, despite the fact schools can’t legally make them isolate.
Ministers scrapped the requirement for all contacts of Covid cases to self-isolate in August.
There have been similar reports at schools in Oxfordshire, Hereford, Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire and Suffolk.
Scotland – which has taken a more cautious approach – advises that assemblies and other large gatherings should be avoided. Secondary school pupils must wear masks indoors.
It comes as official estimates suggest nearly one in 10 secondary school pupils in England are carrying Covid.
Education bosses have blamed a slow vaccine rollout in children for the rising rates, with just 3 per cent of 12 to 15-year-olds jabbed against Covid so far in the areas that are lagging most behind.
But many parents are reluctant to get their child inoculated because the risk/benefit ratio is more finely balanced than in adults.
Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said schools are suffering from staffing problems and rising numbers of students missing school due to Covid.
He told the i: ‘This is happening despite staff being vaccinated, with the problem exacerbated by an acute shortage of suitably qualified supply staff.
‘Leaders are therefore deciding to cancel activity that isn’t crucial to the school day, such as leading assemblies, as many of them are having to step up to frontline teaching to cover staff absence.
‘They may also consider that cancelling assemblies, attended by large groups of students, could help reduce the risk of further infection.’
It comes as a major study found that teachers are no more likely to die from Covid than other workers.
Researchers at the University of Bristol found school staff – including teachers and school assistants – aged under 64-years-old faced no more risk of dying from the virus compared to people in other jobs.
Fatality rates among female teachers was lower than the five-year average in the first nine months of the pandemic, while deaths among male teachers was similar to the expected number, according to the researchers.
However, there were ‘large excesses in deaths’ among over-65s working in schools. But only a third of the extra death certificates listed Covid as the cause, suggesting other factors led to the fatalities, the researchers found.
The study, published in the journal BMJ Open , should be considered by Governments when deciding whether to close schools in future pandemics caused by coronaviruses, the experts said.
Schools in England are starting to close again as head teachers impose ‘circuit breakers’ and send children home to learn remotely ahead of Christmas amid a surge in Covid (stock image)
£34,050-a-year Kent private school that makes children wear yellow badges if they are exempt from wearing masks is slammed for the ‘inappropriate’ similarity to yellow stars Nazis forced condemned Jews to display
A £34,050-a-year Kent private school that makes children wear yellow badges if they are exempt from wearing masks has been slammed for the ‘inappropriate’ similarity to yellow stars Nazis forced condemned Jews to display.
Farringtons School in Chislehurst made face masks mandatory for students in classrooms and corridors amid concern over rising Covid-19 cases.
In a letter to parents explaining the decision, Headmaster David Jackson said exempt pupils ‘should wear a yellow badge’ and other students should wear a face covering ‘until further notice.’
The school has been criticised for being ‘deeply inappropriate’ and accused of ignoring the ‘historic connotations’ of yellow badges which condemned Jews were forced to display in Nazi-occupied Europe.
The school was widely criticised for its policy but co-founder of parent campaign group UsForThem, Molly Kingsley, said it was not an ‘isolated’ case, the Telegraph reported.
‘Asking children to wear some form of exemption marker has been quite common in schools and unbelievably this specific example of asking them to wear a yellow badge is not in isolation.’
She said the historic connotations of yellow badges ‘should not need explaining’ and said it was ‘deeply inappropriate’ to ask face-mask-exempt children to wear them.
Ms Kingsley also warned asking students to identify themselves as exempt from wearing a face covering could ‘stigmatise’ them even more.
‘It will be important to note that staff were not at high risk of death compared with other occupations,’ the team added.
Schools were shut down for months at a time after Covid hit the UK last March, forcing students to learn remotely and their exams to be cancelled.
But the children of key workers – such as frontline health and social care staff – and vulnerable pupils were allowed to attend school as usual.
Even once schools reopened, rules forcing students to isolate if they tested positive or were a contact of an infected person led to more than a million students absent from classrooms over the summer.
Some teachers moaned about being at risk from the virus and wanted schools to close before the Government required them to.
But a series of studies and real-world data have shown teachers are no more likely to test positive, suffer a severe infection or be hospitalised from Covid.
The Bristol team analysed death data for working adults aged 20 to 64 – published by the Office for National Statistics – between March 8 and December 28 last year.
They wanted to calculate the risk of dying from Covid among teachers – many of whom continued to work in-person throughout lockdowns – compared to other occupations.
Covid death rates among people working in schools was low compared to ‘many other occupations’, the researchers found.
Mortality rates among the sector ranged from 10 per 100,000 female primary school teachers to 39 per 100,000 male secondary school teachers.
For comparison, rates among other professions – which the team did not name – were between nine and 50 per 100,000 women and 10 and 143 per 100,000 men.
And death rates among female teachers in the first nine months of the pandemic was lower than the five-year average, while deaths among male teachers was similar to the five-year average.
The researchers found there were more deaths among teaching assistants compared to the expected number, but noted there was uncertainty around this data.
However, among school staff aged over 65-years-old ‘there were large excesses in deaths compared with the average for the previous five years’, the team found.
The researchers said only a third of the extra deaths were registered Covid as the cause of death.
The remaining extra deaths may have been due to delayed treatments for other conditions due to the pandemic, the study states.
Death rates may also have been higher among older staff members because they stayed away from the health service during the pandemic over fears of catching the virus or overburdening the NHS, the researchers said.
Professor Sarah Lewis, a molecular epidemiologist the university and lead author on the study, said: ‘Our research found teachers and teaching and lunchtime assistants, aged between 20- to 64-years-old, were not at high risk of death from Covid during the pandemic in 2020 compared to the working age population in England and Wales.
‘There was weak evidence that the risk of death from Covid for secondary school teachers was slightly higher than expected but overall, the mortality risks from Covid for school staff and across all occupations were in proportion to their non-Covid mortality risk.’