In the face of rapidly rising coronavirus infection levels amongst secondary pupils, the National Education Union is calling for an urgent circuit breaker to suppress Covid cases.

First published in October 2020.

The NEU believes that alongside other nationwide measures to suppress coronavirus, schools and colleges should be closed for two weeks at half term for secondary and post-16 students.

“The latest infection survey report from the ONS (16 October) shows infection rates rising sharply amongst secondary age pupils – much more sharply than in any section of the population apart from university students,” Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the NEU, explained.

COVID-19 infection rates are highest among older teenagers and young adults
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Infection Survey pilot, 16 October 2020 (Section 4, Figure 5) | ONS

“This should be no surprise to either the Prime Minister or the Department for Education – scientists have consistently 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.

According to M. Courtney, the problem is with British classrooms often having poor ventilation, which leads to airborne transmissions, and in many areas overcrowded school transport with children mixing across year group bubbles – the very bubbles children have been told to remain with at school through very strict rules among which one-way walking and wearing masks in the corridors.

“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.

“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.

Because nobody knows how long the pandemic will last, the NEU argues that in order to help prevent future disruption, “the government should take steps to mitigate risk by expanding school space, increasing staff and therefore ensuring smaller classes and a greater ability to maintain social distancing. Government should be working with schools on plans for blended learning. This work needs to happen now.”

The teachers union calls on the Government not to just turn a blind eye and pretend that all is going to be ok. “Urgent action is needed now,” Kevin Courtney concludes.🔷

PMP News reporting.

[This piece was first published in PMP Magazine on 17 October 2020. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

(Cover: Shutterstock/David Tadevosian. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)

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