Promoted by David Beale, 36 Pleasant View, Withnell, Chorley PR6 8SE on behalf of Martin Powell-Davies of TUSC.

Tuesday 12 May 2020

DfE guidance is reckless and unsafe - refuse to open unsafe schools

On May 11th, the DfE issued advice to back up the Government's reckless announcement that they are rushing to re-open primary schools. The DfE advice is equally reckless and unsafe. Here is a summary:

By June 1st the Government intend primary schools to be open to large numbers of young pupils: ALL priority children (keyworkers and vulnerable), Nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6:
Now that we have made progress in reducing the transmission of coronavirus we are encouraging all eligible children to attend - it is no longer necessary for parents of eligible children to keep them at home if they can. From the week commencing 1 June at the earliest, we will be asking primary schools to welcome back children in nursery, reception, year 1 and year 6, alongside priority groups

Before the end of June, they hope to have ALL primary children back: 
Our ambition is to bring all primary year groups back to school before the summer holidays, for a month if feasible

This is driven by childcare, so employers can instruct their employees to be in work, not by education or health concerns:
Children returning to educational and childcare settings in greater numbers will also allow more families to return to work.

They claim to be basing this on science – they are not. They stress that children are less likely to have symptoms – which is true – but are silent about how children spread the virus to each other and adults:
This decision is based on the latest scientific advice. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies advising the Government has a high degree of confidence that the severity of the disease in children is lower than in adults and a moderately high degree of confidence that children aged up to 11 are less susceptible to it. (last sentence taken from the accompanying DfE Press Release)

They accept that PPE can be beneficial in other very similar indoor circumstances – but assert that it is not required in schools. There is no justification for this contradictory advice:
Wearing a face covering or face mask in schools or other education settings is not recommended. Face coverings may be beneficial for short periods indoors where there is a risk of close social contact with people you do not usually meet and where social distancing and other measures cannot be maintained, for example on public transport or in some shops. This does not apply to schools or other education settings. Schools and other education or childcare settings should therefore not require staff, children and learners to wear face coverings.

They assert that anyone living with a vulnerable adult (defined as aged 70 or over, pregnant, with chronic diseases etc) should be in school:
If a child, young person or a member of staff lives with someone who is clinically vulnerable (but not clinically extremely vulnerable), including those who are pregnant, they can attend their education or childcare setting.

They admit that physical distancing is impossible in schools
We know that, unlike older children and adults, early years and primary age children cannot be expected to remain 2 metres apart from each other and staff.

They claim that transmission risk can be ‘reduced’ as long as children are kept in their groups and there is regular cleaning – but they certainly don’t say prevented. There will certainly be transmission across each group - and very probably between these groups too
It is still important to reduce contact between people as much as possible, and we can achieve that and reduce transmission risk by ensuring children, young people and staff where possible, only mix in a small, consistent group and that small group stays away from other people and groups. Public Health England (PHE) is clear that if early years settings, schools and colleges do this, and crucially if they are also applying regular hand cleaning, hygiene and cleaning measures and handling potential cases of the virus as per the advice, then the risk of transmission will be lowered.

And these groups – spreading the virus - will be as large as fifteen
For primary schools, classes should normally be split in half, with no more than 15 pupils per small group and one teacher (and, if needed, a teaching assistant). If there are any shortages of teachers, then teaching assistants can be allocated to lead a group, working under the direction of a teacher. Vulnerable children and children of critical workers in other year groups should also be split into small groups of no more than 15.

Instead of minimising social mixing, they suggest sending children to other schools
Any setting that cannot achieve these small groups at any point should discuss options with their local authority or trust. This might be because there are not enough classrooms or spaces available in the setting or because they do not have enough available teachers or staff to supervise the groups. Solutions might involve children attending a nearby school.

Their specific advice shows no understanding of the reality of schools, especially when working with the youngest year groups, and the difficulty in maintaining consistent distancing and hygiene. Far from reassuring staff and parents that safe precautions can be made, their suggestions simply confirm that schools will be unsafe:
For example:
· stagger assembly groups
· stagger break times (including lunch), so that all children are not moving around the school at the same time
· stagger drop-off and collection times
· plan parents’ drop-off and pick-up protocols that minimise adult to adult contact
· consider how to keep small groups of children together throughout the day and to avoid larger groups of children mixing
· consider how play equipment is used ensuring it is appropriately cleaned between groups of children using it, and that multiple groups do not use it simultaneously
· remove soft furnishings, soft toys and toys that are hard to clean (such as those with intricate parts)
· ensure that wherever possible children and young people use the same classroom or area of a setting throughout the day, with a thorough cleaning of the rooms at the end of the day.
· ensure that sufficient handwashing facilities are available. Where a sink is not nearby, provide hand sanitiser in classrooms and other learning environments
· clean surfaces that children and young people are touching, such as toys, books, desks, chairs, doors, sinks, toilets, light switches, bannisters, more regularly than normal
· ensure that all adults and children frequently wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds and dry thoroughly.
· clean their hands on arrival at the setting, before and after eating, and after sneezing or coughing
· are encouraged not to touch their mouth, eyes and nose
· use a tissue or elbow to cough or sneeze and use bins for tissue waste (‘catch it, bin it, kill it’)
· where possible, all spaces should be well ventilated using natural ventilation (opening windows) or ventilation units
· considering one-way circulation, or place a divider down the middle of the corridor to keep groups apart as they move through the setting where spaces are accessed by corridors
· ensuring that toilets do not become crowded by limiting the number of children or young people who use the toilet facilities at one time
· If class groups take staggered breaks between lessons, these areas can be shared as long as different groups do not mix (and especially do not play sports or games together)
· By seeking to prevent the sharing of stationery and other equipment where possible. Shared materials and surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected more frequently

They admit that the national test and trace programme is NOT ready – that needs to be in place BEFORE schools are re-opened, not after
The government is developing a new national test and trace programme. This will bring together an app, expanded web and phone-based contact tracing, and swab testing for those with potential coronavirus symptoms. This programme will play an important role in helping to minimise the spread of coronavirus in the future.

The advice to staff who have been working with someone who is ill is … ‘wash your hands’

If a member of staff has helped someone who was unwell with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature, they do not need to go home unless they develop symptoms themselves or the child subsequently tests positive. They should wash their hands thoroughly for 20 seconds after any contact with someone who is unwell. 

Even where there is a positively identified case within a school, testing is only ‘encouraged’ not rapidly organised on site as should take place to ensure safety:
When a child, young person or staff member develops symptoms compatible with coronavirus, they should be sent home and advised to self-isolate for 7 days. Their fellow household members should self-isolate for 14 days. All staff and students who are attending an education or childcare setting will have access to a test if they display symptoms of coronavirus, and are encouraged to get tested in this scenario.

The advice ignores the fact that tests, while essential, are also prone to ‘false negatives’.

Where the child, young person or staff member tests negative, they can return to their setting and the fellow household members can end their self-isolation.

Even where there is a wider outbreak within a school, they still want to try and keep schools open
As part of the national test and trace programme, if other cases are detected within the cohort or in the wider setting, Public Health England’s local health protection teams will conduct a rapid investigation and will advise schools and other settings on the most appropriate action to take. In some cases a larger number of other children, young people may be asked to self-isolate at home as a precautionary measure – perhaps the whole class, site or year group. Where settings are observing guidance on infection prevention and control, which will reduce risk of transmission, closure of the whole setting will not generally be necessary.

Testing is restricted to those with symptoms, ignoring the clear scientific evidence that much transmission takes place through children and adults who are not displaying obvious symptoms*:
When settings open to the wider cohort of children and young people, all those children and young people eligible to attend, and members of their households, will have access to testing if they display symptoms of coronavirus.

They advise that a risk assessment is needed – yes, but that assessment can surely only say – NOT SAFE TO OPEN

Refresh your risk assessment and other health and safety advice for children, young people and staff in light of recent government advice, identifying protective measures …
Also ensure that all health and safety compliance checks have been undertaken before opening

* Update - it has been pointed out to me that in the overall Government "Plan to Rebuild" document, there IS an admission that "those who are not at risk of significant harm themselves may pose a real risk of inadvertently infecting others" - perhaps the DfE need to take note!

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