Commenting on the government’s new rules
for Covid management in schools and colleges as part of step 4 of the roadmap for England, Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:
“These rules represent a significant relaxation in the Covid controls that schools and colleges have to follow, which will understandably be greeted with some trepidation after the events of the past 15 months. But we have to put an end to the educational disruption that has blighted the lives of children and young people during the pandemic and it simply would not be fair to them to continue with the current controls when the adult population is largely vaccinated.
“Crucially, from 16 August, children who are close contacts of positive Covid cases will no longer be required to self-isolate and this will remove the main reason for current Covid-related pupil absence. They will instead be advised to take a PCR test.
“Close contacts will still need to be identified and contacted, but from 19 July this responsibility will move from schools and colleges to NHS Test and Trace. We have repeatedly argued that the responsibility for contact tracing should not fall on school and college staff because this is a public health duty, so this change is welcome, if overdue.
“The scrapping of bubbles should remove some of the current barriers to offering children and young people a full timetable of lessons and return school life to something which seems much more normal, and we very much hope that the autumn term and its routines will feel much more settled and familiar.
“But it is important to note that this is not an all-or-nothing situation and a system of controls will remain in place, including the flexibility to reintroduce more stringent measures in the event of local outbreaks of coronavirus. This will be logistically challenging, but seems a prudent and reassuring safeguard.
“There are aspects of the new arrangements that concern us. The requirement for secondary school and college students to be given two on-site Covid tests at the start of the autumn term is a huge logistical exercise which has once again been landed on leaders and their staff without much thought. The government must step up to the mark and provide them with significant support to deliver this public health requirement. We will continue to push for this to happen.
“Schools and colleges are also being told to ensure that classrooms are well ventilated but this is easier said than done when it is the middle of winter and it is too cold to keep doors and windows open. The government should be providing financial support to enable them to invest in high-quality ventilation systems.
“School and college leaders will certainly have other questions and concerns about the fine detail of the government’s plans, and we will continue to work with the government on their behalf to ensure their views are heard and acted upon.
“We are not fully out of the woods yet, and the progress of the virus will need to be closely monitored in the autumn term and probably beyond, but we sincerely hope that the new system of controls marks an important step towards a much more settled educational experience for children and young people.”