Teaching union: Secondary schools should close for two-week circuit-breaker

An urgent circuit-breaker which would see secondary schools and colleges in England closed for two weeks at half-term is urgently needed to suppress Covid-19 cases, Britain’s largest teachers’ union has said.

The National Education Union (NEU) said such a move could allow the Government to “get in control of the test, track and trace system and get cases lower, to allow the system to work better”.

The call comes after new data from the ONS showed there was an estimated average of 27,900 new cases per day of Covid-19 between October 2 and 8.

Daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK
Daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK

Secondary schools and colleges should shut for two weeks, rather than one, over the October half-term to halt the spread of coronavirus, the NEU says.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “Heads, teachers and school staff understand the educational impact of this, but we also understand that in exponential epidemics early action is essential.

“Taking action now can avoid more disruption later.”

On Friday, figures from the ONS showed that the highest rates of infection in England continue to be among young adults and secondary school pupils.

Covid infection rates rising sharply amongst secondary age pupils. No surprise – little social distancing, school transport issues, crowded classrooms, often with poor ventilation etc, poor testing.The children will be mostly fine – but the virus doesn’t stay with them. pic.twitter.com/KZ8ogkJkc6

— Kevin Courtney #NEU💝NHS (@cyclingkev) October 16, 2020

Mr Courtney said: “This should be no surprise to either the Prime Minister or the Department for Education – scientists have consistency told them that secondary students transmit the virus as much as adults, and we have warned them that because we have amongst the biggest class sizes in Europe we have overcrowded classrooms and corridors without effective social distancing.

“Our classrooms often have poor ventilation, leading to airborne transmissions, and in many areas we have also have overcrowded school transport where children are mixing across year-group bubbles.

“These children live in families and are part of communities, so even if they have few or no symptoms themselves they are still part of spreading the virus to others, including to teachers and other school staff.”

He added: “Such a circuit-breaker could allow the Government to get in control of the test, track and trace system, and get cases lower to allow the system to work better.”

The union is also calling on the Government to guarantee the expansion of free school meals for disadvantaged pupils if a circuit-breaker is introduced over the October half-term.

On Tuesday, Government statistics showed that more than one-in-five state secondary schools were not fully open last week.

The proportion of state schools that were partially closed over the past week increased – and most were not fully open due to Covid-related reasons.