Teachers say schools “must” close in order for the Government to get control of coronavirus rates.
Members of the National Education Union have backed Labour leader Kier Starmer’s call for a two-week ‘circuit-breaker’ full lockdown, designed to reduce the number of Covid-19 cases and ease pressure on the NHS ahead of winter.
But they say secondary and post-16 schools should also be included, closing for two weeks in a bid to cut transmission.
Daniel Kebede, senior vice president of the NEU, from Newcastle, insisted any attempts to control the virus with a circuit-breaker “must include schools”.
He said: “The virus is spreading in schools. To not include schools would be like closing the door but leaving the windows open and expecting the house to stay warm.”
Calls for the two-week full lockdown have surged since it emerged that the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) had recommended a more draconian lockdown in September.
But, while refusing to rule out any school closures, Boris Johnson yesterday said a UK-wide lockdown “really doesn’t make sense”, due to the differing infection rates.
Launching the call for the break on Friday, Kevin Courtney, NEU joint general secretary, said: “The latest infection survey report from the ONS (16 October) shows infection rates rising sharply amongst secondary age pupils – much more sharply than in any section of the population apart from university students.
“This should be no surprise to either the Prime Minister or the Department for Education – scientists have consistency told them that secondary students transmit the virus as much as adults, and we have warned them that because we have amongst the biggest class sizes in Europe we have overcrowded classrooms and corridors without effective social distancing.
“Our classrooms often have poor ventilation leading to airborne transmissions, and in many areas we have also have overcrowded school transport where children are mixing across year group bubbles. These children live in families and are part of communities, so even if they have few or no symptoms themselves they are still part of spreading the virus to others, including to teachers and other school staff.
“Such a circuit breaker could allow the government to get in control of the test, track and trace system, and get cases lower to allow the system to work better.
“Heads, teachers and school staff understand the educational impact of this, but we also understand that in exponential epidemics early action is essential. Taking action now can avoid more disruption later.”
He also insisted Government must expand free school meals to support children during the lockdown period.
And he said plans must be made for future disruption by the virus, expanding class room sizes, increasing teacher numbers to allow for smaller class groups, and introducing plans for “blended learning”, mixing classroom and online teaching.
He added: “The Government must not just turn a blind eye and pretend all is going to be ok. They must not pretend that the only change needed is a delay of three weeks to next year’s exams. Urgent action is needed now.”
The Department for Education insisted that “schools, colleges and early years settings across the country have worked tremendously hard to put protective measures in place that are helping reduce the risk of the virus being transmitted”, pointing to measures including social distancing, staggered break times, and class bubbles.
-- to www.chroniclelive.co.uk