School pupils & teachers should have coronavirus tests WEEKLY warns children’s tsar as Gov slaps down 'demanding' unions

PUPILS and teachers could be tested WEEKLY for coronavirus, a children’s tsar has warned.

Anne Longfield said regular tests must happen if schools are to be made “secure” before kids go back to class in September.


The children’s commissioner’s comments put her at odds with the Government’s message on testing as schools minister Nick Gibb said that current measures are sufficient.

Ms Longfield told Times Radio: “Schools are very open to looking at what they can do and have been working very hard to make sure they’re making their school as secure as possible.”

When pushed on whether she believed Covid-19 tests should be weekly, she said:  “I wouldn’t want to say weekly, but I would want to say regularly, and that may be weekly.

I wouldn’t want to say weekly, but I would want to say regularly, and that may be weekly.

“There is much less concern around children who are less than secondary age… Secondary schools, where you have bigger environment and older children, it makes sense that testing and tracking should be part of that.”

Mr Gibb did not support the call, saying: "All the advice we've had is the measures that we're putting in place, the hierarchy of controls about hygiene and so on and bubbles within schools, is the most effective method of reducing the risk of transmission of the virus."

Boris Johnson has called it a “moral duty” to get children back in class in England next month.

UNION CLASH

But unions believe unfair pressure is being put on their members with more steps needed to ensure their safety.

The National Education Union has set out a checklist of Covid-19-secure measures to its 500,000 members.

It advises they should "escalate" complaints if the directives – which include reminding pupils to "catch their coughs and sneezes with a tissue or elbow" -are not being followed.

While another teaching union has revealed plans to teach pupils on a "week on-week off" basis if there's a coronavirus spike.

Top 20 demands from NEU to reopen schools

  1. Will arrangements be in place for limiting the handling of pupil work by staff, including amended arrangements for submitting work online in preference to physical paper and books, with subsequent changes in arrangements for marking?
  2. Will mid-session breaks be long enough to allow hand washing for all students and staff? †
  3. Will lunch breaks be long enough to allow hand washing as well as eating and drinking?
  4. † Are satisfactory arrangements proposed to avoid over-crowding particularly when pupils are gathering to wash or sanitise their hands?
  5. † Will air conditioning only be used when it is deemed safe to do so?
  6. Will lidded bins with double bagging be available in every classroom and work area? 
  7. Will paper towels and bins be provided in every toilet/washroom area and hot air hand dryers disconnected?
  8. Will each classroom be provided with gloves and disinfectant spray in case a pupil coughs or sneezes on a piece of equipment or furniture?
  9. Will arrangements be in place to limit the extent to which pupil belongings and school items are brought into school or taken home and store belongings safely when in school?
  10. Will an assurance be given that staff will be told whenever a child or staff member goes home with COVID-19 symptoms? † 
  11. Will an assurance be given that trade union reps will be involved including in liaison with the local health protection team?
  12. Will teachers working with students in a particular (class) bubble remain separate from students in other bubbles at all times?
  13. Will an assurance be given that classroom support staff will not be expected to teach whole classes as a result of these arrangements?
  14. Will staff working with students in boarding house bubbles remain separate from staff delivering the curriculum during the day?
  15. Are arrangements in place for pupils to safely access quiet spaces, sensory rooms during the school day, taking into account the need to maintain bubbles and clean between users? 
  16. Will pupils who are old enough to maintain distancing from staff and their peers be expected and supported to do so?
  17. Have arrangements been made to ensure that the integrity of “bubbles” and social distancing arrangements can be maintained in the school library?
  18. Has space been identified for pupils who need to be withdrawn from the classroom for whatever reasons?
  19. Will arrangements be in place throughout the day to ensure that unauthorised visitors are not admitted and authorised visitors allowed in? †
  20. Will parents/carers be instructed that they may not come onto the premises unless they have an appointment or it is an emergency situation?

 

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told the Daily Telegraph: "If you want to limit the number of children on site or travelling to and from school, a big part of that is using rotas and the obvious way to do it is 'week on-week off'.

"The majority of leadership teams will be thinking about different scenarios and how they can get some children to school.

"In the absence of clear guidance from the Government, leaders are making their own contingency plans."

Youngsters have been out of mainstream education for nearly five months throughout the pandemic.

And Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said it is now a “national priority” to get them back to their desks for the autumn term.

The PM is due to visit a school today to see how it has been made Covid-secure for the planned return in England on September 3.

'NATIONAL PRIORITY'

Mr Williamson added: “We are continuing to do everything in our power to ensure all children can be back in their classrooms safely.

“We have always been, and will continue to be, guided by scientific and medical advice.

 “The latest research, expected to be published later this year, makes it clear there is little evidence that the virus is transmitted at school.

“There is also growing confidence among parents about their children returning.

“This is down to the hard work of school staff across the country, who are putting in place a range of protective measures.”

LEAST RISK

Professor Russell Viner, a member of the Government's SAGE scientific advisory group, said today "reopening schools is one of the least risky things we can do".

Prof Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, explained that while children can and do transmit this virus they are "very minor players in the transmission overall".

He added: "We cannot be in a risk-free society and this is about the risk balance.

I think it's also clear that reopening schools is one of the least risky things we can do.

"What is the risk balance equation and I think that's separate for children and young people themselves.

"It's very clear for them the benefits and risks, the balance is for them to be back at school.

"For broader society, look, I think it's also clear that reopening schools is one of the least risky things we can do.

"Anything we do that reopens society will add a small or a larger amount to the overall population reproductive number and for schools we believe that it's a relatively minor player, it would add little to the overall population R."

The latest tensions over Covid-19's impact on education come as a European study suggested reopening schools was not a major danger in community transmission of the disease.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control studied 15 countries, including the UK, and concluded: "There is conflicting published evidence on the impact of school closure/re-opening on community transmission levels.

"Although the evidence from contact tracing in schools, and observational data from a number of EU countries suggest that re-opening schools has not been associated with significant increases in community transmission."

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