Heads ask why schools aren't online as Covid surges

Heads' unions question why government is keeping school doors open after rapid testing plan is announced in South East
10th December 2020, 6:38pm
John Roberts


Heads ask why schools aren't online as Covid surges

Covid: Why Are Schools Not Being Closed, Ask Headteachers

School leaders are questioning why the government is not moving lessons online after health secretary Matt Hancock revealed plans for rapid Covid-19 testing for all secondary-age pupils in the worst-hit areas of the South East.

Both the NAHT school leaders' union and the Association of School and College Leaders have questioned why schools are not moving to remote learning after the government's announcement on the need for mass testing tonight.

Covid: Rapid mass testing plan for secondary school pupils announced

Wales: All secondary schools and colleges move to online learning

Warning: Fears Covid in schools will cancel teachers' Christmas

The plan for immediate testing of pupils in parts of London, Kent and Essex came as the Welsh government announced that all the nation's secondary schools and colleges are moving to online learning from Monday in an effort to reduce Covid transmission.

Covid: Calls for schools to switch to online teaching

Wales' education minister, Kirsty Williams, said its chief medical officer advised that the public health situation in the country was deteriorating.

Now headteachers' unions are asking why the government isn't making a similar move in England.

Commenting on the mass testing plan, the NAHT's general secretary, Paul Whiteman, said: "This is clearly a very serious new development, and the government's first priority must be the safety of those involved.

"The government is yet to explain why during this emergency testing period public health is best served by schools remaining fully open.

"A very short-term period of home learning while test results are obtained would ensure further transmission does not occur in schools amongst the most affected group.

"Government must provide a clear explanation to school leaders, parents and pupils so that communities can have confidence in the government's approach."

ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton said: "We have to question why the plan is to mass test children, and there is apparently no consideration of moving to remote learning for the last week of term.

"The number of infections in these areas is very similar to the situation in parts of Wales, where the government there has decided to move to remote learning in secondary schools and colleges from Monday.

"We really do hope that this is not another sign of the government in Westminster ploughing ahead with its insistence that schools should remain fully open in England come what may.

"If there is an immediate concern over infection rates, can we really afford the delay involved in rolling out mass testing and obtaining results?"

At the government's press conference tonight, Mr Hancock said he was particularly concerned about the number of Covid cases in London, Kent and Essex.

He announced plans for immediate mass testing of secondary school students in the worst-hit areas.

Mr Hancock said that the government would provide testing for "all secondary school-aged children in the seven worst affected boroughs of London, in parts of Essex that border London and parts of Kent".

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said: "Finally, the government has woken up to the fact that schools are a major centre of transmission for Covid.

"This has been glaringly obvious for weeks. Rolling out testing in these two areas is a start, but the prime minister needs to urgently address those other parts of the country where infection rates remain high.  

"Parents will welcome this news, but they will, at the same time, recognise the government's pattern of behaviour when it comes to schools.

"This follows hot on the heels of their ludicrous last-minute suggestion that December 18 should become an Inset day, demonstrating a quite staggering disconnect between ministers and the lived experience of schools.  

"Case counts would not be so extreme in schools if government had agreed to the early closing of schools and a take-up in online learning ahead of Christmas, and if they had followed our suggestions about secondary schools moving to rota operation. The decision to move all secondary teaching online in Wales is a much more robust response to an increasingly worrying situation." 

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