Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, comments on advice issued to schools and colleges by the Department for Education on new measures in response to the Omicron variant of Covid-19.
In response to the Omicron variant of Covid-19, the Department for Education has today advised schools and colleges that face coverings should be worn in communal areas in all settings by staff, visitors and pupils or students in year 7 and above. Any suspected or confirmed close contacts of the Omicron variant will be asked to isolate for 10 days regardless of vaccination status or age.
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We support these measures as a sensible response to the risks posed by the Omicron variant of Covid-19.
“This worrying situation, however, emphasises the need for better support from the government for the education sector.
“The government has already asked secondary schools to provide on-site Covid-19 testing for pupils at the beginning of next term. This is a huge additional responsibility, and the government should be giving schools much more support. The organisation and staffing of testing stations should be the remit of public health teams. The government should also give more advance notice of on-site testing if this is required again in future.
“Ministers must also commit to providing all schools and colleges with government-funded air cleaning units as needed, instead of the current approach of advising most settings that they will need to purchase this equipment in an ‘online marketplace’.
“It appears that the Omicron variant may result in more staff and pupil absence thereby worsening an already very grave situation.
“It is therefore imperative that the government provides workforce funding to schools and colleges to help with the cost of supply cover for absent staff. Schools and colleges are in a position of having to provide in-class teaching for some groups of students, and remote education for other groups of students, at the same time as experiencing Covid-related staff absence. They simply cannot sustain the ongoing costs of the supply cover that is required.
“The government must also promote a public campaign to encourage twice-weekly home Covid testing among eligible pupils in order to reduce the risk of transmission.
“We have made these calls on many occasions. It is clear that this crisis is not going away, and we once again call upon the government to give the sector the backing that it needs.”