Michael Gove says secondary schools will have 'later return'
Christmas is over and now many parents, students and teachers are beginning to think about the new school term. Many health experts claim the only way forward to get a handle on the rising rate of coronavirus cases is to implement a national lockdown similar to the one introduced in March, when all schools were closed.
NHS boss Sir Simon Stevens this week warned the country is “back in the eye of the storm”.
The number of patients being treated for Covid-19 has now overtaken those seen during the first peak in April.
On Monday, December 28, 21,286 patients were in hospital, with 1,529 using ventilation equipment.
A total of 41,385 people were confirmed to have tested positive for the virus on Monday, with 357 deaths within 28 days of a positive test confirmed.
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The military is being called in to assist secondary schools and colleges with mass testing programmes at the beginning of the spring term.
Around 1,500 personnel will provide support, training and phone advice to schools in England needings help with the testing process and setting up facilities.
Each secondary school and college in England will be offered testing, with £78m allocated to support this, the Government has said.
In most cases, students will be required to swab themselves under the supervision of a school staff member or volunteer who has been trained for this task.
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The Government remains committed to its plan for pupils to return to school from January 4, under a staggered schedule.
On Monday, Cabinet Minister Michael Gove said the current plan was that students doing GCSEs and A-levels this year and the children of key workers would return to school next week.
He added other secondary school students would return the following week – meaning they would return from January 11.
However, Mr Gove said these plans could change.
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Mr Gove told Times Radio: “We do keep things under review, and we’ll be talking to headteachers and teachers in the next 24, 48 hours just to make sure that our plans… are really robust.”
He added: “It is our intention to make sure we can get children back to school as early as possible.
“But we all know that there are trade-offs.
“As a country, we have decided – and I think this is the right thing to do – that we prioritise children returning to school.
“But we have a new strain and it is also the case that we have also had, albeit in a very limited way, Christmas mixing, so we do have to remain vigilant.”
A recent scientific paper on the new Covid variant by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine warned tougher restrictions are needed to curb the spread of the virus.
The paper shared with the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) advised that schools should be shut in January and two million people vaccinated to reduce the third peak.
The paper reads: “The most stringent intervention scenario with Tier 4 England-wide and schools closed during January and two million individuals vaccinated per week is the only scenario we considered which reduces peak ICU burden below the levels seen during the first wave.”
On Sunday, the Government set a target of vaccinating two million people by the middle of January, with an aim of vaccinating 15 million by March.
Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT, wrote to the Education Secretary on Monday demanding further action on school safety.
The letter asks Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to allow schools to move to remote learning for all pupils, except those deemed vulnerable or children of key workers in the highest tiers only.
It reads: “Delaying the return of pupils to schools and colleges at the start of the spring term will also enable all school and college employers to undertake and consult as required on new risk assessments and ensure that they can be compliant with any new measures or requirements contained in any forthcoming national guidance.”
The teacher’s union is further calling on the Government to publish new safety advice in light of the new and more infectious variants, as well as introduce mandatory face coverings in schools.
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