July 22, 2024

Schools in England struggling to stay open amid soaring Covid cases | Schools

Schools in England struggling to stay open amid soaring Covid cases | Schools

Schools in England are struggling to stay open in the face of increasing Covid infection rates among pupils, with many using preventive measures abandoned by the government in an attempt to keep their pupils in classrooms.

In areas such as Brighton and Northamptonshire, the rate of infection among school-age children is spreading rapidly while the rate among adults is declining, suggesting that the reopening of schools this month is driving the increase among pupils.

While a few schools have had to close, many more are sending home groups of pupils, or reimposing restrictions that were in use last year, such as social distancing and compulsory mask-wearing in indoor or crowded areas.

The National Association of Head Teachers said school leaders seeking advice on dealing with outbreaks have been the largest source of calls to the union in the past week.

Paul Whiteman, the NAHT’s general secretary, said: “We are definitely seeing some significant issues arising at a local level, and we already know of schools that are struggling to keep classes open due to outbreaks occurring.

“We have seen a significant increase in the number of calls to our advice lines from school leaders asking for support and guidance about how best to manage Covid outbreaks.”

In Northamptonshire the number of cases within schools and nurseries has jumped by 115% in the past week. At the start of September there was a daily average of 40 positive cases but three weeks later the daily average has risen to 190 staff and students.

In Hereford, a severe outbreak at Kingstone high school caused the secondary school to close on Thursday until 4 October.

“This is due to the high and rising numbers of positive PCR tests that mean we can no longer deliver ‘in person’ teaching to an appropriate quality because of staffing constraints and the proportion of students not in school,” David Bennett, the school’s executive head, told parents.

Stithians community primary school in Cornwall told parents it would close until 4 October after 46 pupils were absent, more than a quarter of its roll. Nick Illsley, the headteacher, said closure was “the only option left” to contain the spread of Covid.

Cumbria local authority has advised parents that siblings of confirmed Covid cases will be allowed to stay off school. The Department for Education’s guidelines are that anyone under 18 does not need to self-isolate if they are a close contact without symptoms, leading to families where some children are isolating at home after positive test results while their siblings remain at school.

The additional measures follow figures showing there were more than 100,000 children with confirmed or suspected Covid cases at state schools in England last week. Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical officer, has told MPs that it is a “near certainty” that unvaccinated children will catch Covid.

Secondary schools in England will host visits by vaccinations teams over the next three week, with some reporting harassment and nuisance calls from outside protesters.

David Phillips, headteacher of Chilwell school in Beeston, Nottingham, said his school was making preparations for possible protests after threatening phone calls, emails and visits from anti-vaccination ideologues.

“I have been in fairly frequent communication with the police through this week with the rise of the incidents, mainly so they have a full picture of the kind of activities that take place,” Phillips told the PA news agency. He said parents were not involved in any of the contacts.