Covid-19: Calls for a two-week half-term circuit-breaker

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Teachers are calling for a two-week October half-term to act as a circuit-breaker against the rising coronavirus infection rate.

It comes as the latest figures from the Department for Education show that 46 per cent of state-funded secondary schools and 16 per cent of state-funded primary schools now have one or more pupils self-isolating (DfE, 2020).

This means that one in five state-funded schools (21 per cent) have one or more pupils self-isolating; around 12 per cent of schools have more than 30 pupils self-isolating.

The figures, which relate to Thursday, October 15, show that 89 per cent of pupils across all state-funded schools were in attendance, down from 90 per cent the week before. This includes 92 per cent attendance in primary schools and 86 per cent attendance in secondary schools.

The DfE estimates that four to five per cent of pupils did not attend school on October 15 for Covid-19-related reasons, including 0.1 per cent with a confirmed case of coronavirus, 0.5 per cent with a suspected case, 3.9 to 4.3 per cent self-isolating due to potential contact with a case, and 0.2 per cent of pupils in schools closed because of Covid.

As half-term arrives, the National Education Union (NEU) is urging ministers to extend the week-long break to a fortnight to help get on top of rising infection rates.

Joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said that the government “cannot turn away from this data”.

He continued: “The NEU has supported calls for a two-week circuit breaker over half-term both to enable government to get control of trace, track and test and to lower the infection rate making it easier for the system to cope. The government urgently needs to look at this and at other ways of reducing transmission in schools.

“Increasing numbers of pupils and whole year bubbles having to isolate is causing a great deal of disruption to children and young people's education and is making the government's decision to stick to end of year GCSE and A level examinations, with the only change being a three-week delay, ever more untenable. It needs to relook both at next year's exams and the equally untenable suggestion that SATs will go ahead as usual.

“Acting now could reduce the levels of disruption in the coming months and enable schools and colleges to operate in the most effective way possible.”

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), meanwhile, has warned that schools are not getting the support they need from government.

Its director of policy, Julie McCulloch, said: “School and college leaders and staff across all phases have done a remarkable job in managing these incredibly difficult circumstances and getting through to half term.

“They haven’t received enough support from the government over this time in relation to the availability of Covid tests, access to timely public health advice, and the impact of the costs they are incurring in implementing Covid safety measures without reimbursement from the government.”

ASCL is particularly frustrated at what it calls “the patchy support” that schools are receiving from a DfE helpline set up to provide advice in the event of positive Covid cases.

Ms McCulloch added: “Incredibly, schools and colleges reporting a second or subsequent case were being told that they needn’t ‘bother’ phoning the helpline again, as they ‘already know what to do’. This line has apparently now been removed from the script used by call handlers, but the fact it was there at all isn’t helpful.

“The government clearly set out in its guidance for the reopening of schools in September that public health advice would be readily available. However, there have been far too many occasions when schools have experienced difficulty in accessing timely and useful advice, and the government hasn’t lived up to its promise.”

  • DfE: Week 42: Attendance in education and early years settings during the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, October 20, 2020: https://bit.ly/3kgtGa0


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