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Zahawi faces criticism over ‘pitiful’ school Covid handout

Industrial reporter @TrinderMatt

THE Tory government should be working “much harder” to ensure there are adequate Covid-19 counter-measures in schools, the National Education Union (NEU) has warned.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi announced that English secondary schools will receive £1,000 each to help support the rollout of vaccines as omicron continues to spread. 

Special schools and alternative provision settings will also receive the one-off payment from NHS England with an additional uplift based on pupil numbers, the Department for Education (DfE) said.

The £8 million will cover, for example, a member of support staff’s time while in-school vaccination is taking place and working hours spent on tasks related to parental consent forms. 

The government has also bowed to pressure and announced a modest expansion of its programme to acquire air filters for early years settings, schools and colleges.

Unions had warned the 7,000 units committed to earlier this month would “barely scratch the surface.”

Ministers will now deliver to up to 9,000 air cleaning devices after 1,265 education settings, many with multiple classrooms, have made valid applications to receive a unit so far.

Mr Zahawi said: “Face-to-face education for all students has consistently been my priority, and that is why I am pleased to further strengthen the tools available to schools to manage the virus.”

After official figures showed more than 50 per cent of 12 to15-year-olds — more than 1.5 million people — have now had at least one jab, NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “We welcome all efforts to increase vaccine take-up.

“There has to be a real concern however that vaccination will not be enough or fast enough to stop the increasing disruption to education including of exam classes.

“The government should have invested in ventilation and air filtration before omicron.

“They should be working much harder to roll out these solutions now.”

The decision to remove mandatory face mask requirements in secondary schools from Thursday “may well prove to be premature,” Mr Courtney added.  

Paul Whiteman, head of school leaders’ union NAHT, welcomed more air filters but urged ministers to “continue to monitor the situation carefully and ensure that every school that needs such a device receives one quickly.

“The removal of other Covid measures in schools has made good ventilation more important than ever.”

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