By Matt Trinder
THE Tory government’s last-minute plans to remove most pandemic counter measures in schools when Covid-19 cases are rapidly rising is “nothing short of reckless,” teaching unions warned yesterday.
The Department for Education’s “living with Covid” plan, which comes into effect across England today despite schools only being given 24 hours’ notice, will see regular free testing for pupils end immediately.
Anyone infected aged 18 and under will also only now be advised to stay at home and avoid contact with others for three days, as opposed to five days for the rest of the population.
The legal requirement to self-isolate was abolished in England at the end of February.
Primaries, secondaries and colleges will still be required to support any pupils who wish to be vaccinated as well as ensure common areas are “well-ventilated” and regular hand washing and cleaning protocols are followed.
A government spokesperson said that Britain is “now moving to living with — and managing — the virus, while maintaining the population’s wall of protection and communicating safer behaviours that the public can follow to manage risk.”
But the National Education Union said that the plan “makes no sense” as Whitehall’s own figures show the virus is surging in schools, with many once again struggling to stay open.
NEU joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted criticised the discrepancy between self-isolation periods for young people and adults.
“This confusing guidance is a recipe for even more chaos and will make managing cases and preventing disruption even harder than it already is,” she argued.
NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman said: “Given the current situation, it seems nothing short of reckless to be removing access to free testing.”
Ministers also have a “duty to explain” the scientific rationale behind any changes to self-isolation requirements, he said.
“The immediate concern is that by letting people who could still be contagious return to school too early, we could see an increase in cases and therefore more, rather than less, disruption.”
Association of School and College Leaders general secretary Geoff Barton blasted the last-minute nature of the changes as “frustrating and disappointing.”
Abandoning free testing is likely to result in “more cases and more transmission with more disruption, including among students taking exams. It is a shambles,” he said.
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