Coronavirus: Teaching union calls for a two-week ‘circuit breaker’ over half-term

A teaching union has called for an urgent circuit breaker over October half-term, which would see secondary schools and colleges close for two weeks in England.

The National Education Union (NEU), Britain’s largest teachers’ union, said the move could help the government “get in control of the test, track and trace system, and get cases lower to allow the system to work better”.

The call comes after data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed there was an estimated average of 27,900 new coronavirus cases per day between 2 and 8 October.

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Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “Heads, teachers and school staff understand the educational impact of this, but we also understand that in exponential epidemics early action is essential.

“Taking action now can avoid more disruption later.”

The highest COVID-19 infection rates in England continue to be among young adults and secondary school students, according to ONS data released on Friday.

Mr Courtney said: “This should be no surprise to either the prime minister or the Department for Education – scientists have consistency told them that secondary students transmit the virus as much as adults.”

He added: “We have warned them that because we have amongst the biggest class sizes in Europe we have overcrowded classrooms and corridors without effective social distancing.

“Our classrooms often have poor ventilation leading to airborne transmissions, and in many areas we have also have overcrowded school transport where children are mixing across year group bubbles.

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“These children live in families and are part of communities, so even if they have few or no symptoms themselves they are still part of spreading the virus to others, including to teachers and other school staff.”

The NEU have also called on the government to guarantee the expansion of free school meals for disadvantaged students if a circuit breaker happens over the half-term period.

Scientists have recommended a circuit breaker lockdown, but this approach has not been taken by the prime minister.

On Tuesday, Sir Keir Starmer called for a circuit breaker lockdown in England, accusing the government of having “lost control” of the coronavirus pandemic.

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