Primary schools reopening ‘a risk to grandparents’

Chief medical adviser warns 'potential risk' to grandparents is something that 'we need to think through in certain cases'

grandparent with child

The government’s chief medical adviser has today admitted that primary schools reopening this week could pose a risk to grandparents.

Speaking at today's Downing Street press briefing, Professor Chris Whitty said the decision to send more pupils back to school was “a very complicated balancing act” between depriving children of their education and the possibility of increasing transmission of coronavirus.

He said that primary children had a very low risk of severe illness from Covid-19 and that their parents tended not to be in age groups at risk of developing severe problem from coronavirus.


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But he said: “The final thing that people think about is grandparents and others who are potentially at risk, and obviously there is an issue there which we need to think through in certain cases and that is about people taking sensible decisions.”

Professor Whitty said: “On parents not wanting to send their children to school, anyone can understand why parents are thinking about this very hard.

He added: “There is a very complicated balancing act for society in terms of the possibility of increasing the transmission on the one hand and depriving children of their education on the other.”

Last week Professor Karl Friston, a member of the Independent Sage committee (scientific advisory group on emergencies), said he would not send his children back to school if he had a grandparent living with him because the risks would be “too high”.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said his comments underline their advice to members who are older teachers or otherwise in a vulnerable group.

"We have said very clearly that one of the things that we have really emphasised – in our five tests – is that staff who are vulnerable or who live with vulnerable people in their home, should not be working in school.

"Now we know that with Covid-19, with age propensity to get very ill from the disease gets higher. Age is one of the key factors for vulnerability to being very ill with Covid.

"We have been clear that staff who are in the older age bracket who are more vulnerable, that is clearly there – staff who are black and have – either older staff or staff with other comorbidities shouldn’t be in school. 

"There’s plenty for teachers and support staff to do from home. It’s still the case that…even in the schools which are opening according to the government’s plans have only got three year groups in – four if they’ve got a nursery…even in primary, there are lots of children still at home who need support at home and whose learning needs to be supported at home.

"And that’s going to be the case in secondary for a long time so we see no reason why staff who are at risk either through their age or their ethnicity, or any other factor, for example, they’ve got asthma, they’re living with somebody who’s vulnerable, then, we’re absolutely clear that school leaders really need to take that into account."

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Dave Speck

Dave Speck is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @Specktator100

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