St Albans MP calls for a ‘rapid task force’ to keep schools open safely
- Credit: Daisy Cooper's office
A 'rapid task force' is needed to keep schools open and Covid-secure, says St Albans MP Daisy Cooper.
About 375,000 pupils nationwide – one in 20 – are currently out of school for Covid-related reasons, the highest rate since schools fully reopened in March. Most of these children have not tested positive but are within ‘bubbles’ sent home to self-isolate.
The MP raised the issue in the House of Commons last week and also highlighted the matter in a letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson. In both, she called on the government to “urgently establish a rapid task force, with a mandate to keep schools open safely”.
The task force, she said, would be asked to develop guidance by the end of July and give school leaders sufficient time at the start of the autumn term to ensure measure are in place at the start of September, before pupils return.
Daisy added: “Children are losing out on valuable teaching time and parents are at their wits end, but proposals to ditch all restrictions could put children at risk of suffering long-term health effects of catching Covid, known as long-Covid, many months after the initial infection.”
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The Government must urgently establish a rapid task force – with public health experts and school leaders – and should consider a number of measures which the Liberal Democrats have raised before, including the need for proper ventilation within school settings, regular testing, contact tracing, face coverings and a review of bubble sizes to make them as small as possible.
“In short, a proper plan – developed by public health experts and school leaders - that is properly funded, will allow as many children as possible to attend school safely without undoing the sacrifices that the British people have made. With warnings of a new Autumn Covid surge, the government must act now to stop any further disruption to our children’s and young people’s education.”
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“I understand that the Association of Directors of Public Health has separately already indicated that it wants to see a root-and-branch review of current measures to develop a plan for what Covid-secure schools look like with the Delta variant.”
Libby Sheridan, who has a 14-year-old son who attends school in St Albans, agreed something must change. “Our son received a notification to self-isolate on a Sunday evening ahead of an exam-filled week, meaning the exams he was expecting to do in person had to be changed to online.
“He was joined in one of his online exams by more than 90 of his classmates – just over half the entire group. Yet only one in the year group has been confirmed positive via a PCR test and four others are still waiting for the confirmation from their lateral flow tests.
“He’s normally quite resilient, but he’s been understandably very stressed over this.”
Libby says she and her husband both work during the day, and with three of them in the house on the same internet connection, either she or her husband must hugely reduce their internet usage to maximise the bandwidth for their son while he does his exams. “This leads to very fragmented and inconvenient working days for us,” she said.
"Daisy's task force idea sounds like it strikes a good balance between keeping kids in school and keeping cases low. The last thing I want is for there to be a big outbreak in schools – I dread the thought of returning to home-schooling in September."
Another parent, Joanna Meaden, who has one child in nursery and another two in Years 4 and 6, said the government has failed to make school children a priority and has been too slow in developing a plan in response to the Delta variant.
“There needs to be a plan going forward, and it needs to be determined and agreed as soon as possible.
“But why has this not already been done? Why does this situation seem to have taken the government by surprise?
“They’ve been so busy figuring out how to let people watch football and go on summer holidays overseas that they seem to have completely forgotten about children."