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Jane Nellist, Coventry Socialist Party and NEU

The increasing number of Covid cases among pupils, and the need for school ‘bubbles’ to isolate, means that over 370,000 pupils are in isolation and having to learn at home. An increasing number of educators are also being infected, risking their health.

But the Department for Education is suggesting that the requirement to isolate for students who have come into contact with a positive case in school could be scrapped in the autumn.

Schools have been totally let down during the pandemic, leaving staff exhausted and children missing out on lessons. Parents who have to juggle work and childcare responsibilities when children are isolating are frustrated, and rightfully so. The lack of financial support for those isolating or forced to stay at home to look after their children has a detrimental impact on the whole family.

What is more, there has been little or no investment in making schools safer. With excessive class sizes and inadequate space and ventilation in many schools, it is no wonder the virus spreads.

Mask wearing, a proven method of mitigating the risks of transmitting the virus, has been relaxed by the government in schools, although many schools have been forced to reintroduce it after huge rises in the numbers of cases.

Trade union health and safety reps have pushed schools to adopt safer work practices. If the government relaxes its expectations on mitigations in schools, and allows pupils in close proximity to a positive case to remain in school, the spread of the virus will again take hold, as we are already starting to see. The reliance on inaccurate lateral flow tests is not going to solve the problem.

This government is playing ‘gung ho’ with our health in a drive to protect profits. But if more reliable and effective mitigations were implemented and funded, Covid cases could be reduced significantly.

We demand an immediate investment in schools to ensure:

  • Reduced class sizes to maintain social distancing. Keep ‘bubbles’ as small as possible to reduce disruption
  • Ensure good ventilation. Provide CO2 monitors to all classrooms. Utilise outdoor teaching spaces
  • Mandatory wearing of masks. Schools should be funded to provide appropriate masks for all secondary, and older primary, pupils
  • Urgently improve track, trace and isolate. Full pay for those isolating or providing childcare