Attendance dropping in Hertfordshire schools amid calls for them to ‘re-close’

PUBLISHED: 07:00 05 November 2020

Hundreds of Hertfordshire residents have signed a petition calling for schools and universities to be closed during lockdown. Picture: Ben Birchall/PA Archive/PA Images

Hundreds of Hertfordshire residents have signed a petition calling for schools and universities to be closed during lockdown. Picture: Ben Birchall/PA Archive/PA Images

PA Archive/PA Images

Attendance at Hertfordshire’s secondary schools has dropped since the start of the autumn term, as cases of COVID-19 have increased among staff and pupils.

While thousands of Hertfordshire residents are calling for schools to be closed, as pubs, restaurants, non-essential shops and sports facilities closed from today as part of a package of measures to halt the spread of the virus.

The new lockdown is scheduled to last for four weeks, from Thursday, 5 November until Wednesday, December 2.

Unlike the last lockdown, this time the government has made it clear that schools, universities and colleges should stay open.

That has already prompted some concern, with one leading teaching union already branding schools as ‘an engine for virus transmission’.

Now, a petition has been launched on the government’s own website, calling for a review of the plans. That petition calls on the government to ‘reclose schools and colleges due to increase in COVID-19 cases’.

It says, “we are seeing cases of students and teachers catching the virus since schools have reopened.“

As of 9am November 3, it included more than 363,000 ‘signatures’ – including almost 6,000 Hertfordshire residents.

That’s already enough to trigger a written response from the government – and for it to be considered for Parliamentary debate.

According to the petition website, by 9am on Tuesday the petition had been backed by 5,946 Hertfordshire residents.

Within St Albans, the number to have ‘signed’ was 525, in Harpenden and Hitchin 426 and in Welwyn Hatfield 601 and 697 in Hertsmere.

In North East Hertfordshire 401 had ‘signed’ and in Stevenage 523. The petition can be found at petition.parliament.uk.

These concerns follow the latest data which shows that attendance levels decreased during the first six weeks of the autumn term at Hertfordshire secondary schools.

And now – on average – one in 10 pupils are absent from secondary schools across the county.

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The data was included in a report on the county council’s ongoing response to COVID-19 that was presented to a meeting of the council’s adult care and health cabinet panel on Monday, November 2.

“Over the course of the month the increase in the number of cases of COVID-19 in the county has been felt in schools,” says the report.

“This has included growing numbers of both pupils and staff.”

The report – written in mid-October – records 90 per cent attendance in secondary schools and 95 per cent in primary schools.

That’s lower than the average attendance during the autumn term last year, which was said to be 95.6 per cent.

The report says this is due – in part – to the numbers of children self-isolating.

“Over the six weeks since the start of the autumn term the proportion of children attending secondary schools has dropped,” says the report.

“This is partly as a result of the numbers self-isolating as a result of contact with a COVID-19 case either at school or in a community setting.

“Some 3.5 per cent of secondary-aged pupils are affected in this way.”

The data also highlights 45 schools that have sent home a ‘bubble’ of pupils, in line with Department of Education and public health guidance. Of those, it was reported that 18 were primary schools, 26 secondary school and one special school.

Jim McManus, director of public health for Hertfordshire said that he believes that this second lockdown will be about 40 per cent effective , while the first one was 70 per cent effective.

The reason he believes the lockdown will be less effective is due to the fact that schools and universities will be remaining open.

The University of Hertfordshire, based in Hatfield, will be continuing to teach, but is currently approaching 100 total confirmed cases since September 28.

Following the lockdown announcement the university said that it is their “aim to continue to provide a mix of on campus and online teaching” but that “there may be an increase in online teaching for some students”.

Mr McManus added that while there is still the risk of COVID being spread in schools, there is “significant evidence that shows the harm caused by not being in education”, which also has to be taken into account.


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