Disruption to schooling could worsen in winter due to Covid-19, says union

The number of pupils who have to self-isolate could increase and more schools may have to close as winter approaches, a head teachers’ union has said.

Downing Street says 99% of schools in England have reopened this month, with only a “very small” number remaining closed due to coronavirus outbreaks.

But Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said disruption to pupils’ education could worsen in the months to come.

Schools have been hit with Covid-19 cases since pupils returned to class over the past fortnight.

Some have closed their doors days after reopening, while others have told whole classes and year groups to self-isolate for two weeks following confirmed cases.

Heads are facing a “very difficult situation” because of Covid-19 transmission in the community, a “lack of sufficient capacity” in the testing system, and difficulties in getting timely advice from health teams, Mr Barton said.

He added: “While only a small number of schools have had to close because of outbreaks, we are regularly hearing reports of groups of pupils and staff having to self-isolate in response to positive cases.

“The concern is that this disruption will worsen as winter approaches.

“It is essential that the Government improves the capacity of the testing system, and ensures that local health protection teams have the resources they need to provide prompt advice to schools.”

Official data on school attendance is due to be published on Tuesday, Downing Street said.

HEALTH Coronavirus
HEALTH Coronavirus

James Bowen, director of policy for school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Unfortunately, since the start of September we have already seen cases of schools having to partially close as a result of advice from local health protection teams.

“When it comes to testing, we have heard the same story repeated across England – chaos being caused by the inability of staff and families to successfully get tested when they display symptoms. This is putting the success of the return to school at serious risk.

“The Government must sort testing out quickly so that schools can remain open and pupils and staff know they are safe to attend.”

On Monday, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The indications are that around 99% of schools expected to open have done so.

“There is a very small number of schools which have asked some or all of their pupils to remain at home.

“Those schools are following the published guidance and ensuring that where there is a positive case swift action is taken.

“Children who are self-isolating continue to receive remote education from home.”