Heads told to trace Covid contacts despite DfE guidance

EXCLUSIVE: Urgent warning over reports that new DfE guidance on Covid contact tracing in schools is not being followed

John Roberts

School leaders told to trace Covid contacts despite new DfE guidance

Headteachers have warned that schools are still being expected to carry out Covid contact tracing despite being told by the Department for Education that the NHS would take over this week.

There are also reports that whole bubbles are still being told to isolate when new cases emerge, rather than the "small number of close contacts" set out in the guidance.

A school leaders' union is now calling on the Department for Education to urgently tackle the situation.

The government had said that schools' responsibility for identifying Covid contacts would end from yesterday, with NHS Test and Trace services taking over the role of deciding who needs to self-isolate as contacts.

Government guidance, sent to schools last week, said that it expected that schools would no longer be routinely involved and that it was only expected that a small number of contacts would be identified as needing to isolate following each Covid case.

Covid contacts: What schools were told to expect this week

School attendance: Schools not asked for this week's Covid data

Restrictions: School bubbles 'to be scrapped from 19 July'

However, reports have been emerging this week that councils in some areas are asking schools to continue Covid contact tracing until the end of term.

Schools still being asked to carry out Covid contact tracing

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We have been getting reports that some local authorities and public health directors are asking schools to continue contract tracing during the final week of term.

“This contradicts government guidance, which is that the Test and Trace service will take over this important responsibility with immediate effect. This puts education leaders in a difficult position, but our understanding is that local authorities do not have the authority to ask schools and colleges to continue contact tracing.

“We have raised this matter with the DfE and asked it to urgently raise this with the local authorities that appear to be contradicting its guidance."

James Bowen, director of policy at the NAHT school leaders' union, said: “We are seeing reports that some local councils or public health teams are asking schools to carry on contact tracing for the last few days of term this week.

"This is putting school leaders in those areas in a really difficult position as they are stuck in the middle between the message being given by central government and what they are being advised to do at a local level. 

"It also appears that the government’s communication to local public health teams has been lacking if local areas are going directly against what the DfE has told schools is going to happen this week.”

School leaders and staff have highlighted the situation on social media.

Chris Foley, a senior executive leader designate at St Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Academy Trust in the North West of England, said: "We have had to share letters with some parents today with regard to Covid isolation.

"Please accept our apologies for those parents and pupils who are affected. Whilst schools were told we would stop tracking and tracing today, that isn't what happened. Hang in there everyone."

Meanwhile, one executive headteacher, Kate Owbridge, said in a Twitter post that a council in her area was still “supporting whole bubble closures”. 

A government spokesperson said: “Our priority is for schools and colleges to deliver face-to-face, high-quality education to all pupils as we know that being out of education causes significant harm to educational attainment, life chances, mental and physical health.

“As we cautiously proceed with step 4 [of the Covid recovery roadmap], schools now no longer need to operate a bubble system, and from 16 August pupils will not need to self-isolate should they come into contact with a positive case, in line with the position for double-jabbed adults and under-18s.”

The DfE also reiterated that from step 4, which the country moved to on Monday, schools are no longer be required to conduct contact tracing and the responsibility will move to NHS Test and Trace.

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John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

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