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Outdoor lessons guidance to schools is ‘total fudge’, says union

By Catherine Wylie, PA

Schools should consider outdoor lessons if five pupils who are likely to have mixed closely test positive for Covid-19, according to Government guidance.

The suggestion, which appears in a Department for Education document, has been branded “total fudge” by a union which is calling for “an urgent plan, backed up by cast-iron investment” to install ventilation equipment in school buildings as soon as possible.

The document refers to thresholds which can be used by education and childcare settings as an indication for when to seek public health advice if they are concerned.

One of the thresholds is when five children, pupils, students or staff, who are likely to have mixed closely, test positive for Covid-19 within a 10-day period.

The other is when 10% of children, pupils, students or staff who are likely to have mixed closely test positive within 10 days.

The document says: “At the point of reaching a threshold, education and childcare settings should review and reinforce the testing, hygiene and ventilation measures they already have in place.”

It says settings should also consider “whether any activities could take place outdoors, including exercise, assemblies, or classes”.

It also says schools should consider “ways to improve ventilation indoors, where this would not significantly impact thermal comfort” and “one-off enhanced cleaning focussing on touch points and any shared equipment”.

The guidance says that education settings should make sure their contingency plans cover the possibility that “it may be advised that face coverings should temporarily be worn in settings in their area”.

This may include face coverings in communal areas and/or classrooms, for pupils, students and staff, the document said, adding that children of primary school age and in early years should not be advised to wear face coverings.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We are concerned that the contingency framework is growing during the summer holidays and with very little time for schools and colleges to update their planning.

“They are now expected to have in place plans for extra action in the event of a certain number of coronavirus cases occurring within their setting.

“This would kick in before more stringent measures that might be advised by public health experts.

“The extra action listed is slightly bizarre in that it includes ways to improve ventilation when government advice amounts to no more than keeping open windows.

“The suggestion that schools could realistically consider holding assemblies and lessons outdoors during the autumn term, as temperatures plummet, is a total fudge on the Government’s part.

“What is needed is an urgent plan, backed up by cast-iron investment, to install ventilation equipment in school buildings as soon as possible.

“This contingency framework follows the Government’s decision to end the policy of self-isolation for close contacts of positive Covid cases, no longer require bubbles and hand over contact tracing to NHS Test and Trace.

“It is very important that NHS Test and Trace is effective in controlling transmission of the virus and that the contingency framework does not end up becoming the de facto Covid management system to varying extents across the country.”

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “We welcome the Government producing some form of contingency plan for schools, although measures such as outside lessons will be difficult in winter.

“It is concerning that so few mitigations are in place for September, in spite of their obvious benefits to ensuring children stay in school and do so safely.

“The NEU, along with six other education unions, are calling on Government to provide funding to improve classroom ventilation and supply CO2 monitors to help schools keep an eye on air quality. We know this will be an effective way of getting schools through the autumn and winter.

“We also need to see Government encourage regular testing at home, which dramatically fell away last term.”

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