School leaders have raised concerns that implementing safety measures and mass testing before students return on 8 March may be impossible.
Boris Johnson announced on Monday that all schools in England would reopen their doors on 8 March in the first stage of his four-phase roadmap for ending the UK’s third and what he hopes is the final lockdown.
“It is thought a few days’ flexibility may be built in to allow measures like testing to be put in place,” the BBC reports. However, schools have still cautioned that they may be unable to meet such an imminent deadline.
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Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, told The Times that “testing all secondary school pupils three times on site is a huge logistical challenge.
“Without significant extra support some schools and colleges may need longer than a week to enable all students to be tested prior to returning to the classroom,” she said.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England, said that he backed schools reopening despite it creating situations “where infection is brought into the household”. Schools must open their doors again “because of the welfare of children - mental, educational, physical, the whole spread of child welfare - depends upon them going back to school”, he added.
Jack Marsh, a teacher at John Stainer community primary school in Brockley, south London, told The Guardian that “teachers should have the option to be vaccinated before they return”, adding that “otherwise, I don’t think schools can be safely reopened”.
However, Health Secretary Matt Hancock this weekend ruled out prioritising teachers in the vaccine queue, saying “there isn't strong evidence that teachers are more likely to catch Covid than any other group”, The Sun reports.
“We’ve asked the expert group, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, what order we should vaccinate in, broadly in order to reduce the number of deaths as fast as possible,” Hancock added. “I’ll leave it for the JCVI to set out what they think is the best order in which to do this that minimises the number of deaths.”
George, a 21-year-old sixth-form teacher in London, told The Guardian that he felt safer when only the children of key workers and vulnerable students were allowed to attend school in person. “We’ve done all we can, but there’s not much you can do to stop transmission when you’ve got hundreds of people from different boroughs in one building,” he said.
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