Face masks could return in Cambridgeshire schools after Covid restrictions end
Face masks could be reintroduced into Cambridgeshire schools if there is an outbreak of coronavirus after restrictions end, the county’s director of education has confirmed.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told MPs that the need for face masks, social distancing measures and staggered start and finish times in schools will be scrapped from September.
He also confirmed this week that the system of sending “bubbles” of children home after a positive case would cease at the end of summer term.
The bubble system had been necessary to limit virus spread but was now causing disruption to pupils’ lives, he said.
Jonathan Lewis, director of education at Cambridgeshire County Council said following the announcement: “Safety in our schools has been a key consideration throughout and we have a proud record of minimising the spread of Covid-19 in schools during the last 16 months.
“Under the guidance released today, the government has stated that face coverings will not be mandatory in schools. However, if there is an outbreak in a school, the director of public health can advise schools that face coverings should temporarily be worn in communal areas or classrooms.
“We will be monitoring the community infection rate moving into the autumn and it is our intention to brief Head teachers fully at the start of September on the current Covid-19 provision.”
The latest data from Public Health England shows that 104 young people aged 15-19 in Cambridge tested positive for Covid19 in the week from June 27 to July 3.
Across the whole county, which includes the data from Cambridge, the figure was 259.
In the younger 10-14 age group, there were 42 positive tests of which 11 were from Cambridge.
The Covid testing regime for pupils will be transferred to the NHS track and trace system, Mr Williamson confirmed.
He said instead, secondary schools will be asked to offer pupils two Covid tests at the beginning of the autumn term, as a one-off event.
Mr Williamson said: “I do not think it is acceptable that children should face greater restrictions over and above those of wider society, especially since they have given up so much to keep older generations safe during this pandemic.”
He said: “Where there are outbreaks schools and colleges may be contacted by NHS Test and Trace and they will also work with local health teams as they currently do now.
“We’re also setting out new rules that mean from the 16 August children will only need to isolate if they have tested positive for Covid-19.”
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the move to remove masks in schools was “neglectful and reckless”.
She said: “Schools and colleges are doing everything they can to keep young people and the wider community safe. We must seriously question the wisdom of the Government's decision to take away so many safety measures.
“These mitigations are being removed at a time when cases are rising, school outbreaks are at the highest level all year and rising sharply, and children remain unvaccinated and at risk of transmitting the virus and suffering long Covid themselves.
“The Government should publish the results of its trials on daily contact testing as an alternative to self-isolation before changing the system. It should also provide support to schools to organise testing in the autumn term, not leave this burden on already overstretched school and college staff. It would be eminently sensible to bring in Public Health England to organise this work.
“Measures to maintain and improve ventilation by providing air filters and CO2 monitors could be quickly and easily introduced but have instead been ignored. Other simple safety measures such as wearing face masks when moving around the school have been ignored as well.
“The Government must also respond to the crisis of long Covid by confirming that it recognises the condition as a disability and provide support to those employees affected by Long Covid.
“Gavin Williamson has asked school and college leaders to be patient in their wait for guidance, but it is simply not good enough to leave so much unresolved when so little of the summer term remains. The education secretary promised heads full clarity the moment step 4 of the roadmap was reached, so there will be considerable anger and concern if he does not make good on his word.
“This is not a Government which oversees, but one which overlooks. It has failed to take account of the alarming deterioration in self-testing numbers among school-age children, dropping from 60% in mid-March to just 15% today. The decision to remove requirements for masks in secondary classrooms from mid-May has led to a significant rise in cases of which Government appears oblivious.
“This is neglectful and reckless decision-making, when schools and colleges quite obviously need the backing of Government to ensure their workplace remains safe.
“The NEU has always said that we should hope for the best but plan for the worst, and base decisions on the science and the data. The Government appears to have no concern for other eventualities, pinning everything on hope. Schools and colleges have been through this several times before and leaders will be appalled that yet again so little is being done to support them.”