Coronavirus -schools re-opening: August 2021

Dear constituent,

Thank you for contacting me about coronavirus safety measures in schools and colleges.

I appreciate your concerns about the safety of education settings. Schools are important not only to pupils’ learning, but also to their mental and physical wellbeing, and I am pleased that all schools and colleges have been able to deliver face-to-face teaching throughout the summer term.

The Secretary of State for Education has announced the remaining restrictions and measures in place at schools and colleges have been removed, as we have now proceeded to Stage Four of the Government's roadmap. 

I welcome that the bubble system will is no longer be in place and contact tracing has been transferred to the NHS Test and Trace system. As such, where there are outbreaks in educational settings, pupils and staff may be contacted by Test and Trace. I understand that as of 16th August, children and young people only need to isolate if they have tested positive for Covid-19 and fully vaccinated staff who have been a close contact of a positive case can remain in the classroom from the autumn term.

On their return to school, students should have received two on-site lateral flow tests and are also being asked to continue to test twice weekly at home until the end of September, at which stage this guidance will be reviewed. Alongside regular testing a number of other measures remain in place in educational settings, to manage the day-to-day transmission of COVID-19. This includes robust hygiene measures and increased ventilation. I understand that if the number of positive cases in a setting increases substantially, settings may want to review and reinforce testing, ventilation and other measures as well as seeking further public health advice.

Further to this, the Department for Education has also announced that CO2 monitors will be rolled out to state-funded education settings. I am aware that special schools and alternative provision will be prioritised in the first phase due to the higher number of vulnerable students who attend these settings. However, I have been assured that all schools will receive their allocations during the current autumn term.

I am aware that some pupils, staff and parents are concerned about the publication of data on the number of positive cases of COVID-19 in schools, particularly in relation to the Delta variant.

I understand that twice a week Public Health England (PHE) publish a breakdown of the number of cases of each variant in the UK. I am aware that PHE have now published data on transmission in educational settings which has shown that in the weeks following the re-opening of schools across the country, COVID-19 outbreaks linked to school settings have remained low and broadly reflect what is happening in the wider community. 

I can assure you that the Government are monitoring cases in schools very carefully and have implemented a range of measures to ensure staff and pupils are safe.

Whilst all schools and colleges are open, I recognise that remote learning may continue in some form for selected pupils, for example those who are self-isolating. In addition to requiring that all schools have remote education contingency plans in place, Ministers have provided a range of resources to support schools in delivering remote education. This includes work with sector-led initiatives such as Oak National Academy. £4.84 million was made available over the past academic year which including funding for specialist content for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities. I am delighted that the Department has now committed a further £2.1 million to the Academy, enabling it to operate from the start of the upcoming academic year through to Easter 2022.

I understand that there have been some reports of young people attempting to fake a positive test in order to miss school due to having to self-isolate. 

I am aware that current guidance for Covid-19 testing stipulates that children under twelve years of age should be tested by an adult. Those aged twelve to seventeen should take the test themselves but with adult supervision and additional adult assistance where necessary. This guidance should be adhered to at all times in households, to ensure that NHS Test and Trace are receiving accurate data and that students are not missing out on any further education.

Finally, the Department for Education is aware of the importance of maintaining good ventilation in occupied areas in educational settings, in helping to keep students and staff safe. The Department has provided guidance on COVID-19 control measures for the autumn term, including on ventilation, which is informed by the latest scientific advice in consultation with Public Health England as well as the Health and Safety Executive. Further, I have been assured that Department officials and Ministers regularly meet with a range of organisations to discuss the Government's response to the COVID-19 outbreak, including public health measures in schools and colleges, such as ventilation. 

I have been informed that condition funding is allocated each year to schools and those responsible for school buildings to maintain and improve the condition of the school estate, including improving ventilation where that is their priority. This includes funding for 16 to 19 academies and sixth form colleges. I am aware that £1.8 billion has been provided for the current financial year. 

I have been assured by colleagues that they are committed to ensuring schools are safe and comfortable for students and staff. As such, areas where ventilation is poor should be proactively identified so steps can be taken to improve fresh air flow if needed.

Thank you for contacting me.

Yours sincerely,

richard fuller

Richard Fuller MP