The government is being told to urgently explain how it is monitoring the transmission of Covid-19 in schools after minister Nick Gibb admitted the Department for Education did not know how many teachers had tested positive.
The NASUWT teaching union has raised concerns following the government’s response to a written parliamentary question about the numbers of positive coronavirus cases in schools before the summer.
School standards minister Nick Gibb was asked how many Covid-19 cases there had been among teachers and school staff from March to July this year and how many pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 had tested positive since June.
In response, Mr Gibb said the DfE collects data on daily suspected Covid-19 related absences but that it was “not possible to extrapolate from this the number of confirmed positive cases”.
He also said Public Health England publishes data on the number of Covid 19 cases, broken down by settings but not by profession.
Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: “There is an urgent need for the government to confirm that it has a clear and accurate understanding of the impact of the coronavirus and its transmission in schools.
"This is vital if national decisions about future lockdown restrictions are to have any credibility.
“The NASUWT has been consistently pressing the government to explain how it is monitoring the incidence and spread of Covid-19 in schools. As we have seen throughout this pandemic, the provision of robust and timely data on cases of Covid is critical in tackling outbreaks and preventing isolated cases turning into a wave of infections within communities.
“It is also a vital part of monitoring whether all schools have in place and are maintaining the appropriate mitigation measures to minimise the risks of Covid transmission.
“The government must explain what it is doing to monitor Covid cases within schools and how it intends to act on this data where it shows cause for concern, either in individual schools, in regions or nationally.”
'Not possible to extrapolate'
This followed two questions on Covid-19 from Mark Hendrick, the Labour MP for Preston.
Mr Hendrick asked what estimate the government had made regarding the number of teachers who had tested positive between 19 March and July of this year. He also asked how many pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 had tested positive since June.
Mr Gibb’s written response said: “Keeping close track of suspected or confirmed Covid-19 cases in schools is a priority for the government. The department collects data on daily suspected Covid-19 related absences as well as data on the number of schools that have indicated they have sent children home due to Covid-19 containment measures.
“However it is not possible to extrapolate from this the number of confirmed positive cases.
“Public Health England (PHE) collects data on infection, incidence and Covid-19 cases overall. PHE publishes data on Covid-19 incidents by institution, including educational settings, which can be found here.
“The data are not broken down by year group, nor by profession.
“All children, young people, members of staff and their households have access to a test if they are displaying symptoms of coronavirus and are encouraged to get tested in this scenario.
"Where a positive result is identified local health protection teams will work with the setting to carry out a rapid risk assessment and advise them of the actions to be taken.”
The DfE has been approached for a comment.