ASCL rejects Downing Street criticism of Covid management in schools

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, is today writing to the Prime Minister over reports of Downing Street criticism about the management of Covid cases in schools.
His letter says:

Dear Prime Minister
We are dismayed by media reports that Downing Street appears to be suggesting that schools are being over-zealous in their interpretation of government guidance on the management of Covid cases and that they are sending home too many pupils. This feels like a cynical attempt to shift the blame for your government’s failure to address the escalating educational disruption of recent weeks on to schools at a time when they are working under extraordinarily difficult circumstances to manage this deteriorating situation. It is doubly frustrating because nothing has yet been communicated to them about what Covid management processes they will be expected to follow in the autumn term despite the summer holidays fast approaching.
You must know that schools and colleges have been diligently following the government’s complex guidance on the management of Covid cases since last September and they are very well aware of what it says. They don’t automatically send home whole bubbles or make decisions on who to send home on their own. In reality, they endeavour to identify close contacts, and they work with the Department for Education’s advice service or Public Health England local protection teams to decide who to send home. These decisions will be based on many factors such as whether there are single or multiple cases, the movements of pupils during the course of the day including on school transport, the layout of classrooms, and the ability of younger pupils in particular to socially distance. School and college staff spend many hours on contact tracing duties, including during evenings, weekends and school holidays, despite this being a public health rather than an educational task.
The reality of these rules is that for every positive Covid case there is bound to be a substantial knock-on effect because everyone identified as a close contact must then also self-isolate even though they may not have the virus. Over the past few weeks, the number of positive cases in schools has risen and each of these cases then leads to more children self-isolating who are close contacts. The result is a very rapid growth in the number of children who are absent. This is the last thing that schools and colleges want to happen after 15 months of educational disruption but they have to follow the government’s rules.
We hope that you will respond to this letter by publicly recognising that schools and colleges are following government guidance on managing Covid cases and that you support their work during this crisis. We would ask you also to urgently set out your government’s plans to bring to an end this ongoing educational disruption. This situation simply cannot continue next term. Schools, colleges, parents and pupils need certainty and clarity about the road ahead.
Yours sincerely

Geoff Barton
General Secretary
Association of School and College Leaders