Cambridge teacher warns of Covid-19 ‘Russian roulette’ for schools
A Cambridge sixth-form teacher has spoken of her fears about Covid-19 risks to students and staff returning to school this week with no masks, no bubbles and no self-isolation for contacts of those infected.
Niamh Sweeney, of Long Road Sixth Form College, who is an NEU union representative, fears schools will quickly be overrun by the virus and has already taken the difficult decision to stop visiting her own mother to protect her.
Meanwhile, school leaders have been quick to reassure parents that they have plans in place to protect students and staff in spite of government safety guidelines being reversed.
Ms Sweeney said: “My biggest concern is that nothing has changed. The idea that we will just ‘live with the virus’ means people will get sick.
“We need to reduce transmission in the community, we need to reduce our social contacts, so we need to have smaller class sizes, we need isolation, masks, better ventilation.
“All of those things that we were calling for in June 2020 are still the things that we’re calling for now and they haven’t materialised.
“Not having to isolate anymore if you are under the age of 18 is just ridiculous. It means that a student could test positive, and their sibling can still come to school. It’s negligent and it’s crazy.
“Covid-19 will run through our schools and children’s education will be disrupted again. And the government just ignoring it doesn’t mean that disruption won’t happen. People are going to get sick.
“Personally I’m worried because my mum is vulnerable. And so I know when I get back to work I can’t go and visit her because I will be mixing with 2,000 mostly unvaccinated students. It’s like Russian roulette.”
She advises parents to check with schools that there are no plans to hold whole school assemblies, as this would dramatically increase social contact.
But school leaders believe they will be providing a safe return for students. Chris Tooley, principal of Netherhall Scool, said: “We are confident that we have prepared a safe and supportive environment for all members of our school family, balancing a return to a more normal school organisation with a continuation of enhanced hygiene measures. Close monitoring will be in place with a readiness to respond quickly should circumstances require.”
His school will offer two lateral flow tests before students start and students can choose to have regular tests. High-level windows will be open for ventilation, students and staff will have the option to wear masks and hand sanitiser will be available.
Stephen Munday, chief executive of the Cam Academy Trust, added: “Legislation and guidance has clearly changed for the operation of schools since last term and is now far less restrictive. This enables schools to run in a more ‘normal’ way in how they are organised to seek to ensure really good teaching and learning.
“However, we are very mindful of the continuing prevalence of Covid-19 and thus are seeking to put in place appropriate mitigations in schools to minimise the likelihood of the spread of the virus. In secondary schools, this includes a significant regime of regular testing for pupils so that any occurrence of the virus can be picked up very quickly and any pupils testing positive isolating immediately.”.