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Teachers condemn government's ‘extreme negligence’ after study finds 30 coronavirus outbreaks in reopened schools in England

TEACHERS condemned the government for being “negligent in the extreme” today after an analysis found that there were 30 outbreaks of coronavirus in English schools after they reopened.

The reopening of schools following the easing of national lockdown was associated with a total of 198 confirmed Covid-19 cases, 70 in children and 128 in staff, according to the report by Public Health England (PHE).

There was a “strong correlation” between community coronavirus incidence and risk of outbreaks in educational settings, even during a period of low Covid-19 incidence, the report said.

The analysis comes the day after Britain’s chief medical officers issued a joint warning that children are more at risk of long-term harm if they do not attend school than if they return to the classroom despite coronavirus.

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said that the risk of children catching coronavirus and getting long-term problems from returning to school are “incredibly small” compared with the “clear” chances of them being damaged by not going.

National Education Union (NEU) joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said that while the union agrees on the benefits of a full-time return to education, it believes it is vital the government takes every step it can to both allow reopening and keep the R rate below 1.

Mr Courtney said: “Schools and colleges are currently doing all they can to ensure their buildings are as Covid secure as possible, as well as dealing with the fallout from the exams fiasco.

“However school staff, parents and pupils are being sorely let down by government because of a lack of a plan B and of ensuring robust track trace and test is in place throughout the country. 

“We believe the government is negligent in the extreme.”

Schools and colleges need to know what should happen if an outbreak of the virus occurs in individual schools or more widely with national or regional spikes, Mr Courtney added.

“Government advice needs to cover the possible self-isolation of bubbles and, in extremis, moving to rotas or to more limited opening,” he said.

“It needs to cover advice to heads about the protections needed for staff in high-risk categories if infection rates rise.”

Mr Courtney added that the government should be employing more teachers and seeking extra teaching spaces to allow education to continue in a safe way if infections rise.

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