Independent scientists set out a simple plan to make our schools safe

School safety Independent Sage guidance to government
Jasmine Norden

A group of scientists have set out recommendations for the government to guarantee school safety, as coronavirus (Covid-19) infections continue.

Independent Sage published a guidance note that lays out several key actions for central government, Ofsted, and local government. The recommendations include ensuring rapid testing, increasing funding to allow smaller class sizes, and reviewing standardised exams.

The guidance comes after repeated calls from teachers and unions to protect educators and students.

Providing support

Independent Sage advised that central government should provide funding for schools to use “additional spaces and staff”. This would allow the reduction of class sizes, and therefore make social distancing easier. It also recommended additional funding to help provide supply cover, computer resources, ventilation and masks.

The guidance also said that standardised exams, such as GCSEs and A-Levels, cannot proceed fairly and should therefore be replaced by teacher assessment.

The group said that local public health teams should be given the tools to advise and support schools.

A welcome intervention

Teaching unions have called several times for increased safety measures in schools. Earlier this month, the NASUWT sent a plan to education ministers to ensure safety in school settings. The plan included providing financial support to allow schools to buy safety equipment.

The National Education Union (NEU) has issued several statements highlighting the lack of support given to schools to ensure safety. It has stated its support for Independent Sage’s recommendations.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said:

There is no sign of a rethink, but there really has to be. Schools and colleges are now a major centre of transmission of Covid and ministers cannot continue to duck the issue. The Government is blindly pressing on doing very little if anything to keep schools as safe as they need to be.  Its lack of positive action is causing confusion, secrecy, mistrust, fear, demoralisation and exhaustion.

Recurring outbreaks

Coronavirus cases have risen in schools since their reopening in September. A survey by the GMB union found that nearly three in five school support staff reported coronavirus outbreaks in their schools.

Analysis by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) concluded that coronavirus-related absences increased to 6-7% during the second week of November.

Consequently, calls have continued for exams to be cancelled. Headteachers have requested GCSEs and A-Levels be replaced with teacher assessments. The EPI suggested that if exams go ahead, they should allow some grade inflation and more question choice than usual. The Welsh government has already announced that exams will be cancelled in 2021.

Combatting disadvantage

Coronavirus has disproportionately impacted poorer pupils, many of who have been unable to access online learning and are therefore less prepared for exams.

Poorer areas of the UK have also seen higher transmission of the virus, further compounding the disadvantage gap. Higher case rates lead to increased school absences, as seen in Hull, where one in four children were absent last week after cases soared.

As well as ensuring safety, Independent Sage suggested its measures could increase equality in schools for disadvantaged students by reducing transmission.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons/Chris McAndrew & YouTube/indie_SAGE

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