The latest Covid guidance for schools that says NHS Test and Trace staff could ask children who their close contacts are is causing “considerable anxiety and confusion”, headteachers are warning.
Guidance, issued late yesterday afternoon, sets out what schools can expect next week when responsibility for identifying contacts of positive Covid cases transfers to the NHS.
From Monday the test and trace service, rather than schools, will contact pupils with Covid or their parents or legal guardians to get details of their close contacts so they can be asked to isolate, the government has said.
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Schools have also been told that there is likely to be “a very small number of close contacts” being identified on average for each Covid case.
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This is in stark contrast to the current situation where an entire bubble can be sent home. There are currently around three-quarters of a million pupils self-isolating nationally.
School leaders say parents will struggle to understand the “very significant changes” and that heads are “caught in the middle”, having to explain the guidance for parents and staff alike.
And heads and teachers have also questioned whether pupils or their families will be able to provide NHS Test and Trace staff with the information they need to identify contacts – especially at the younger end of primary schools and in special schools.
James Bowen, director of policy at school leaders' union the NAHT, said: “The guidance is clearly causing considerable anxiety and confusion, particularly for those schools still open next week.
“It’s going to be very hard for parents to get their heads around these very significant changes to contact tracing that come into play on Monday.
“Once again, it’s school leaders who have got caught in the middle and will end up having to try and make sense of it all for parents and staff alike.”
Primary school headteacher Simon Smith, posted a summary of the guidance from his school, East Whitby Academy, on Twitter.
In a letter to parents, he highlighted how although the decision on who the close contacts who need to self-isolate are is now transferring to the NHS Test and Trace service, those pupils who were already isolating will need to continue to do so until the end of their isolation period.
He added: “The new guidance is quite confusing. I’ve tried to explain it as clearly as I can.”
Dear Parents...information regarding changes to Track and Trace systems relating to schools from Monday 19th of July. pic.twitter.com/kPr8L7vNQd— East Whitby Academy (@EastWhitbyCPS) July 15, 2021
Teachers on social media have also questioned how the system will work if children are being relied upon to provide information.
One said: "Some kids can’t even remember the name of the child who has sat next to them for the past month. What a ridiculous plan…"
Special school headteacher Simon Knight, who is a joint head of Frank Wise special school in Banbury, tweeted: "I wonder how many pupils in special schools, or indeed their families, will be able to supply the information required?
"Can’t see how this will work effectively for the sector I work in.
"Not convinced this has really been thought through for those with learning disabilities or even those in mainstream below a certain age."
I wonder how many pupils in Special schools, or indeed their families, will be able to supply the information required? Can’t see how this will work effectively for the sector I work in. https://t.co/rMilkf6Y3z— Simon Knight (@SimonKnight100) July 15, 2021
The DfE has said that while schools may still keep pupils in bubbles from Monday, they will no longer have the responsibility to tell a bubble to self-isolate, should a pupil test positive.
In its blog, the DfE states: “NHS Test and Trace will now oversee contact tracing in all education settings.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said there were concerns about the lack of clarity over arrangements for next term around outbreak management plans and replacing the requirement for pupils to self-isolate with advice to take a PCR test.
He said: "We are also extremely concerned about the lack of support from the government for on-site Covid tests in secondary schools and colleges at the outset of the autumn term.
"The government must step up to the plate and provide schools and colleges with sufficient numbers of suitably trained staff to carry out this testing rather than once again leaving them in the lurch.”
The DfE has said that its priority is for schools and colleges to deliver face-to-face education to all pupils because being out of education causes "significant harm" to educational attainment, life chances and mental and physical health.