Covid classroom infection may continue, scientists warn

Independent SAGE group cautions about spread of the coronavirus in schools with 'high percentage' of pupils attending
8th January 2021, 12:28pm
John Roberts


Covid classroom infection may continue, scientists warn
Coronavirus: Scientists Have Warned That Infection Will Keep Spreading In The Classroom If Too Many Pupils Attend School During The Lockdown

Covid infections will continue to spread through classrooms where high numbers of children are attending schools, scientists have warned.

The Independent SAGE group has recommended that the government narrow the definition of key workers and increase furlough support for people to bring down the number of pupils attending school during the new national lockdown.

The panel, chaired by former chief scientific adviser Sir David King, said today: "Infections will continue to circulate among essential workers and in classrooms where a high percentage of children are still attending school."

Quick readMore pupils expected in school than during the first lockdown

Lockdown: Lack of laptops means more pupils in school, DfE warns

Boris Johnson: Schools move online to most pupils in new national lockdown

It is also warning that the current lockdown measures may not be enough to suppress the virus, as the latest daily figures showed more than 50,000 new cases and more than 1,000 deaths.

Independent SAGE said that with the NHS "on the brink of being overwhelmed", more needed to be done to tackle the spread of Covid.

Coronavirus school closures: Strategy 'needed to reopen schools safely'

In a new report published today, it says the government must take steps to ensure that schools are safe when they do return and that pupils are able to learn remotely.

The group has called for the creation of a national education task force involving government, councils, teachers, parents and students.

The new Independent SAGE report says this task force should: "Plan, resource and implement changes that will create a more Covid-secure environment in schools and hence allow a safe return to school as soon as possible."

It also calls for it to work out what resources are necessary to allow all students to participate in remote study and to monitor the mental health needs of students and staff and provide the necessary support in schools.

The reports comes after heads warned that schools have been put in an impossible position by government guidance which says they should not limit the number of critical worker children who can attend school.

The NAHT school leaders' union's general secretary, Paul Whiteman, said that in some cases his union's members were reporting 70 per cent of pupils being in attendance at school.

Mr Whiteman also warned that a lack of laptops being provided to schools by the DfE risked undermining the lockdown as the government has said that pupils who do not have access to a digital device should come into school. 

The Independent SAGE group is holding a press conference today to launch its report A 'Safe Schools' policy for reopening education as soon as possible and mitigating the harms of closure.

Professor Stephen Reicher, of the University of St Andrews, a member of the group said: "We recognise that, given the extent to which infections have been allowed to run out of control, it is now necessary to close schools down.

"However, it is entirely unacceptable to shut things down without also acting to make schools safe when they reopen, without providing the resources to ensure that all pupils can study remotely, and without developing plans to address the serious harms caused by closure."

He added: "As ever, the government has created a crisis, responded at the last moment with emergency measures but has entirely failed to develop a more comprehensive strategy to deal with the pandemic. This report fills that gap with just such a strategy for schools."

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Register for free to read more

You can read two more articles on Tes for free this month if you register using the button below.

Alternatively, you can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters

Already registered? Log in

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Subscribe to read more

You can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters