These mitigations are now necessary given the current pattern of increasing cases among school-age children, further disrupting education.
There is more disruption when employees have to isolate. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) confirms that education workers are currently 26 percent more likely to contract Covid-19 than the general population because cases are higher among schoolchildren.
The government should stand behind teachers and support schools to:
Vaccines should be encouraged. When needed, employees should be allowed to book vaccinations/boosters at school time without loss of wages.
Safety mitigation should be further mitigated as follows:
- Face coverings, in line with government requirements, must be worn by pupils, staff in secondary community areas and essential staff in public areas. This should extend to secondary classrooms for staff and students. No employee anywhere should be prohibited from wearing a face covering in any part of the building.
- High quality medical masks (FFP2, FFP3) provided upon request for at-risk personnel and pupils previously identified as clinically vulnerable, clinically extremely vulnerable, or involved in close contact and personal care;
- Ventilation measures to keep carbon dioxide below 800 C02 ppm in all occupied classrooms and invest in air purifiers. If levels consistently rise above this, personnel should follow NEU ventilation guidelines or contact a safety representative;
- measures such as one-way roads, intermittent rest times to reduce mixing between seasons and groups of the year whenever possible, improving spacing and reducing lane congestion;
- The government issues guidance to all schools regarding staff and parent meetings, events and meetings. This can depend on various factors including local case rates, the outbreak in the school itself, the quality of ventilation and space available, and this should include ensuring social distancing or hybrid events.
Testing should be strongly encouraged for all staff and pupils at least twice weekly, including recording test results. Schools, staff and families should be told where they can go. Some schools send text reminders to parents twice a week.
Government requirements state that people who have been fully vaccinated, or who are under 18 years and 6 months of age, who have been identified as a contact of someone with Covid-19, whether or not Omicron, should have a lateral flow test every day for seven days. NEU urges schools to go further and encourage parents to maintain contacts of siblings and other family members about covid-19 at home until a negative PCR test result is obtained, in order to protect other pupils/staff and families.
Additional knowledge that reduces the potential risks of the Omicron variant or demonstrates the success of the vaccination program may allow the government to withdraw these measures. The additional confirmation of the growing concern may mean that we need to review them in favor of stronger mitigation measures.