THE UK GOVERNMENT LAUNCHED a back to school and college campaign on 26 August to set out the experience that students in England can expect from September, with some Covid safety measures removed.

Commenting on the campaign launch, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “We all want the return to school to be successful and the DfE [Department for Education] emphasis on testing is important. This charm offensive from Government to parents relies on the notion that the removal of safety requirements will magically transform school and college life.

“However, its admission last week that CO2 monitors will be needed, should be sufficient evidence that Gavin Williamson made a bad call when removing so many mitigations last term – and, once again, squandered the summer break. Sadly, CO2 monitors will not arrive soon enough, and [will] only diagnose problems not solve them.

“The school community, including parents, students and staff, constitutes millions of people and we must expect cases to start to rise when schools return, especially when mitigations have been removed.

“We cannot pretend that schools are disconnected from society, we cannot ignore the fact that children and staff will have to self-isolate if they test positive, nor that a smaller number will miss more school because of longer Covid symptoms. The success of the vaccination programme has not yet eradicated the challenges facing schools and colleges. Nor, on its own, will a week of testing.

“The Government’s own contingency framework sets a very high threshold for the numbers of cases sufficient to trigger extended safety measures. The DfE should be working with school and college leaders to do all that they reasonably can at the start of term to avoid reaching that point. Leaders will want to consider continuing with face coverings in secondary schools, social distancing where possible, and special arrangements for vulnerable staff.

“Every school and college is different, but the goal this September is common to all: none of us want to see young people stuck at home. We believe they must be engaged in full on-site education and leaders, and teachers and support staff will do everything they reasonably can to make sure that remains the case.

“That is our side of the bargain. But the DfE needs to do far more to uphold its end. As an absolute minimum we need to see a swift roll-out of the promised CO2 monitors and proper support and action from Government when problems are subsequently identified.

“School and college leaders are tasked with a great responsibility as they return from the summer break. Teachers and support staff feel this, too. The danger is not that schools and colleges will be slow to act, but that Government is.”

* More on the UK Government’s back to school campaign here.

* Source: National Education Union