Health

Hundreds of schools scrap assemblies and bring back masks across England amid Covid spike

Hundreds of schools across England are cancelling assemblies as Covid continues to rip through classrooms. 

Primaries and secondaries in Wiltshire and Staffordshire have already scrapped them completely under the orders of their local councils.

Headteachers in the areas have also been advised to bring back other restrictions such as mandatory face masks indoors and staggered break times.

But schools elsewhere in the country are beginning to take matters into their own hands in a bid to clamp down on rising infections. 

Thurston Community College in Essex yesterday became the latest to deviate from official guidance, cancelling assemblies and making face coverings compulsory.

There have been similar reports at schools in Oxfordshire, Hereford, Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire and Suffolk.

Scotland – which has taken a more cautious approach – advises that assemblies and other large gatherings should be avoided. Secondary school pupils must wear masks indoors. 

It comes as official estimates suggest nearly one in 10 secondary school pupils in England are carrying Covid. 

Education bosses have blamed a slow vaccine rollout in children for the rising rates, with just 3 per cent of 12 to 15-year-olds jabbed against Covid so far in the areas that are lagging most behind. 

But many parents are reluctant to get their child inoculated because the risk/benefit ratio is more finely balanced than in adults.

A record 111,000 pupils missed school last week because they tested positive for Covid, official figures revealed today. The number of youngsters absent because they’re infected has doubled since mid-September, as coronavirus continues to rip through classrooms

North and south divide. Scotland is roaring ahead with rolling out the first dose of the Covid vaccine to 12-to-15-year-olds compared to England. All 10 of the best performing areas were north of the border with England hosting the bottom 10, the majority of which are in London

North and south divide. Scotland is roaring ahead with rolling out the first dose of the Covid vaccine to 12-to-15-year-olds compared to England. All 10 of the best performing areas were north of the border with England hosting the bottom 10, the majority of which are in London

The Government has been criticised over the slow rollout of the Covid vaccine to children but the latest figures reveal that the scheme is having mixed success across the country

The Government has been criticised over the slow rollout of the Covid vaccine to children but the latest figures reveal that the scheme is having mixed success across the country

Headteachers across England and Wiltshire and Staffordshire councils have told teachers to call-off assemblies and other events where the entire school congregates

Headteachers across England and Wiltshire and Staffordshire councils have told teachers to call-off assemblies and other events where the entire school congregates

Health Secretary Sajid Javid yesterday revealed children will be able to book their vaccines online next week as part of a half-term jabbing blitz to get more youngsters protected.

There is a small one in 10,000 risk of myocarditis — an extremely rare form of heart inflammation that is not necessarily serious — in children after two doses of a Covid vaccine. 

It is slightly more prevalent in boys and doctors say most cases are treatable. But the long term implications of the condition are not yet fully understood.

The risk of a healthy child being admitted to ICU with Covid, on the other hand, is around one in 500,000. Some studies have suggested, though, that Covid infection itself is more likely to cause myocarditis, which complicates the issue further.

Department for Education data shows 2.6 per cent of pupils — more than 200,000 children, equivalent to 8,000 classrooms — were off school last week due to the coronavirus, with 111,000 testing positive.

And 1.8 per cent of teachers and school leaders were absent due to the virus. 

Record 111,000 pupils missed school with Covid last week – TWICE as high as figure last month

A record 111,000 pupils missed school last week because they tested positive for Covid, official figures revealed yesterday.

The number of youngsters absent because they’re infected has doubled since mid-September, as coronavirus continues to rip through classrooms.

Department for Education data showed, in total, more than 200,000 children — or 2.6 per cent of pupils — were absent from school in England due to Covid last week.

It comes as Sajid Javid today revealed children will be able to book their vaccines online next week as part of a half-term jabbing blitz.

No10 is desperately trying to boost inoculation rates in youngsters, with just one in thirty 12-15 year olds jabbed in parts of the country.

James Bowen, of the headteachers’ union NAHT, said the rise in teachers catching Covid — in many cases from pupils – was causing disruption to classes.

‘If the government does not act now, there is a clear and obvious risk that disruption to education will only get worse as we head into winter,’ he said.

‘Changes should be made to close contact isolation rules so siblings of those who have tested positive for Covid don’t continue to go into school and infect others.’

The Liberal Democrats pointed out the number of pupils now absent due to Covid-related reasons would fill ‘8,000 classrooms’.

The party’s health spokesman Munira Wilson said: ‘The government must urgently ramp up vaccinations for 12 to 16-year-olds over the half term holidays.

‘Schools have been given the impossible task of keeping children in the classroom whilst also dealing with rising Covid rates.

‘As a result, thousands of children are now missing out on vital learning.’ 

Chellaston Academy in Derby called off assemblies and told some years to learn from home last week after a ‘significant number of teaching staff’ were off due to Covid-related reasons, the i reported. 

Heads at Marlbrook Primary School in Hereford have also made the decision to cancel assemblies and permit children to only socialise with other year groups when outdoors.

Meanwhile, Herts and Essex High School in Hertfordshire and Thurston Community College in Suffolk are holding online assemblies to avoid school-wide gatherings. 

A primary school in Oxford has also called-off all large school gatherings.

The Government lifted Covid restrictions placed on schools — including face masks and bubbles — earlier this year as part of No10’s drive to learn to live with the virus. 

But ministers published guidance in August, which set out that some measures could be brought back to manage local outbreaks, respond to variants of concern or prevent the NHS from becoming overwhelmed. 

Hundreds of primaries and secondaries in Staffordshire were urged to be ‘proactive’ and not wait on official guidance from the Government, it was reported last month. 

Some schools in Wales were advised last month to cancel assemblies where the entire school was in attendance. 

Scotland, which saw record-high infections in August after pupils returned to classrooms, has told schools to avoid assemblies and other large gatherings.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said schools are suffering from staffing problems and rising numbers of students missing school due to Covid. 

He told the i: ‘This is happening despite staff being vaccinated, with the problem exacerbated by an acute shortage of suitably qualified supply staff. 

‘Leaders are therefore deciding to cancel activity that isn’t crucial to the school day, such as leading assemblies, as many of them are having to step up to frontline teaching to cover staff absence. 

‘They may also consider that cancelling assemblies, attended by large groups of students, could help reduce the risk of further infection.’

Mr Barton said the rollout of Covid vaccines to pupils aged 12 to 15 is ‘key’ for bringing down cases, ‘but this has been slow to get underway in many areas and beset by logistical problems’. 

He added: ‘The Government had originally hoped to have the vaccination programme complete by the half-term holiday but this is patently not now going to happen.’

But he noted that plans announced yesterday for youngsters to get jabbed at walk-in centres is a ‘very sensible’ approach.  

James Bowen, director of policy for the National Association of Head Teachers, told the i some schools and local authorities have decided to ban students gathering in large numbers.

‘Often this means an alternative form of assembly is taking place in individual classes or year groups,’ he said.

Mr Brown added: ‘Given the significant number of outbreaks we are seeing in schools at the moment, this relatively minor change to the school day seems a sensible short-term measure to protect pupils and staff. 

Until the Government gets on top of Covid transmission in schools, disruption like this will only continue.’

It comes after Professor Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist who sits on SAGE, yesterday called for Britain to follow Europe’s lead in giving teenagers two Covid vaccines instead of just one.

He said: ‘Most other European countries are ahead of us in vaccinating teens and they are giving them two doses, not just one dose. 

‘We know two doses really are needed to block infection and to prevent transmission.’


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