UK unions call for tighter Covid safety measures in schools as cases surge

Unions called for the government's immediate intervention to restore safety measures in schools and prevent disruptions to education as Covid rises among teens.
According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, one in fourteen secondary school-age children in England was infected by Covid last week. This is an increase of one in twenty pupils in the previous week.

Professor Calum Semple, a member the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies(Sage), warned that rapid spread of the virus among school-aged children in years 7-11 could lead to herd immunity rather than vaccination.

Semple stated that it is not an effective way to achieve herd immunity. Commentators often say it is absurd to try to achieve herd immunity through natural wild-type infections. This can cause severe disease and long-term Covid to children.

Five unions wrote to Nadhim Zhawi, education secretary, to ask him to tighten safety measures at schools. Kevin Courtney (NEU joint general secretary) said that they are concerned about the government's inaction as Covid cases rise across schools.

It is clear that more must be done to stop further disruptions to children's education from Covid-19 and Covid-related staff absenteeism.

Avril Chambers (GMB national officer) stated that rising cases indicated that additional mitigation measures were needed immediately to avoid further disruption to schooling. Jim Kennedy, Unites national officer in education, stated that Zahawi must reset the safety agenda for schools due to the approaching winter.

NASUWT, the teachers union, stressed the importance of onsite testing over home testing which is less efficient. It also asked the government to reconsider self-isolation for students who have positive cases.

Professor Kevin McConway, an emeritus professor at the Open University of applied statistics, described the alarming rise in cases among secondary school-age children. This is a significant increase regardless of how you look at it. It clearly indicates that schools have reopened and, most importantly, that the vaccination rates for children in this age group are still low.

Only one in ten (9%) of the age group had been vaccinated last Sunday, just weeks before the government's half-term target.