Education unions have urged the government to reintroduce extra safety measures in schools. It comes as an expert warned about the level of coronavirus (Covid-19) circulating among secondary school pupils.
The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that around one in 15 children in school years 7 to 11 in England are estimated to have had coronavirus in the week to 2 October. That’s the highest positivity rate for any age group.
#COVID19 infection rates increased in people aged
▪️ school Year 7 to Year 11
▪️ 35 to 49 years
▪️ 70 years and over.
— Office for National Statistics (ONS) (@ONS) October 8, 2021
Stronger safety measures
Five education unions wrote to education secretary Nadhim Zahawi urging him to bring back stronger safety measures for schools. They are GMB union, Unite, Unison, National Education Union (NEU) and NASUWT teaching union.
The unions are also writing to local authorities and directors of public health, asking them to consider measures in their local areas.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said:
We are concerned that the Government is standing by while Covid cases surge across schools.
It is evident that more needs to be done, and sooner rather than later, to prevent further massive disruption to children’s education, caused either by children contracting Covid-19 or Covid-related staff absence.
Jim Kennedy, Unite national officer for education, called on Zahawi to “reset the safety agenda for schools”. And he argued that with winter approaching:
the whole range of measures to keep school children safe needs to be deployed – the rising level of infections in schools demand it
And the NASUWT said schools need more support with onsite testing “rather than relying on home testing, which is less effective”. The union urged the government to reinstate the requirement for self-isolation for pupils who are contacts of a positive case.
Moreover, GMB national officer Avril Chambers said the latest figures show “it is clear further mitigation measures are needed immediately”.
‘Disease and damage to children’
While education unions wrote to the government, an expert shared his concerns with the BBC about rising infections among children.
Professor Calum Semple is a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises the government. Speaking on the virus spreading among children, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:
There is a risk of that and it’s not a good way to get to herd immunity. Commentators would usually say it’s ridiculous to aim for herd immunity using natural wild-type infection because that brings with it disease and damage to children both from acute disease and potentially long Covid.
He said there’s “no pretence that this is a deliberate attempt to get herd immunity – that would also be ridiculous”.
And he suggested “some flexibility would be great” for parents in England to be able to take children to vaccination centres.
Most children in England aged 12-15 are currently being offered one dose of the Pfizer vaccine by immunisation teams at schools.
Semple said the uptake so far in this age group has been “really encouraging”, but added:
I’m sure it will take time for confidence to build among many parents.
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?