Was Ofsted chief right on school Covid safety 'myths'?

Tes fact checks Ofsted's suggestion that some school coronavirus safety protocols are based on 'misinformation' rather than DfE guidance
13th November 2020, 4:59pm


Was Ofsted chief right on school Covid safety 'myths'?

Amanda Spielman

Ofsted's Amanda Spielman has provoked anger from teachers by suggesting that school Covid safety measures are based on "myths".

In a speech last week, the chief inspector implied that schools and teachers were being excessively cautious by stopping singing and swimming and by keeping doors open.

After claiming that parents keeping their children at home because of safety concerns during the pandemic were driven by "fake news" and misinformation on social media, she added that "of course, schools aren't immune from misinformation either".

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"There are myths doing the rounds about what schools 'have' to do, or must not do, such as no singing or swimming and keeping all doors open, no matter the weather," she said.

"And there are indications that schools may sometimes be sending pupils home too readily."

But teachers on social media expressed frustration with her comments, arguing that heads and staff were shouldering the responsibility of keeping pupils safe in difficult circumstances.

So what does the government guidance say on the matter?

1. No singing

The guidance does not forbid singing, but it does say accompanying music should be played at a low level so as not to encourage singing loudly.

"Schools should keep any background or accompanying music to levels which do not encourage teachers or other performers to raise their voices unduly. If possible, use microphones to reduce the need for shouting or prolonged periods of loud speaking or singing," the guidance says.

It adds: "Although singing and playing wind and brass instruments do not currently appear to represent a significantly higher risk than routine speaking and breathing at the same volume, there is now some evidence that additional risk can build from aerosol transmission with volume and with the combined numbers of individuals within a confined space.

"This is particularly evident for singing and shouting, but with appropriate safety mitigation and consideration, singing, wind and brass teaching can still take place."

"Singing, wind and brass playing should not take place in larger groups such as choirs and ensembles, or assemblies unless significant space, natural airflow...and strict social distancing and mitigation as described below can be maintained," the guidance adds.

Critics on social media have pointed out that singing at funerals during the pandemic is not allowed under current government guidance. 

@amanda_spielman open windows is a myth is it why have I had letters to buy thermals, put extra layers on my children and that they should have a warm coat as gets cold in class and what makes singing safe when you can't do it at a funeral 😡

- Joanna Brady 3.5% (@joanna_brady) October 6, 2020


2. Keeping doors open

Government guidance does state that once schools are open, it is important that they are "well-ventilated" and that a "comfortable teaching environment is maintained".

It says this can be achieved through mechanical ventilation systems, or via "natural ventilation - opening windows (in cooler weather windows should be opened just enough to provide constant background ventilation, and opened more fully during breaks to purge the air in the space)."

"Opening internal doors can also assist with creating a throughput of air," the guidance adds, and "if necessary, external opening doors may also be used (as long as they are not fire doors and where safe to do so)."

3. No swimming

Government guidance refers schools to Swim England's advice on swimming.

It says: "Despite being on the national curriculum, around one in five children leave primary school unable to swim. This figure rises to almost half of children from the least affluent families.

"It is therefore incredibly important that children do not miss out on school swimming and water safety lessons as a result of Covid-19."

However, it does say that teachers should deliver lessons from the poolside and that contact between groups should be avoided. 

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