Coronavirus: Heads expect ‘better’ safety guidance

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The NAHT headteachers’ union has said it expects the government to publish “better” safety guidance for schools after vague advice was circulated last night.

The new guidance on implementing social distancing in education and childcare settings, published by the Department for Education and Public Health England, has been criticised for telling leaders little that they don’t already know.

The guidance states that nobody should attend or visit schools if they are displaying coronavirus symptoms, and advises schools to consider how children arrive and “reduce any unnecessary travel on coaches, buses or public transport”.

Schools should also ensure class sizes “reflect the numbers of teaching staff available and are kept as small as possible”, it states, while also calling for staggered lunch and break times, and the movement of pupils around the school.

Parents should also be discouraged from gathering at the school gates, it states, before going on to repeat existing PHE guidance reminding staff to wash their hands thoroughly and “increase cleaning of surfaces in classrooms, including desks and handles”.

The guidance does not include advice on the supply of personal protective equipment to schools that need it, but says further guidance on this matter will be issued.

It comes after unions demanded guidance from the government on keeping staff and pupils safe as they continue to operate schools for vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers.

However Paul Whiteman, the NAHT’s general secretary, said: “Last night we saw the first iteration of the government’s safety guidance for schools. We expect further and better advice to be issued throughout the day today. We continue to engage with the DfE whilst it is updated.

“School staff are playing a leading role in the fight against Coronavirus and it is right that the government should provide them with the expert medical advice, practical guidance and resources needed to keep themselves and children safe.”

On Monday, the National Education Union called for coronavirus testing for all staff in schools that remain open.

School leaders reacted with anger to the guidance last night.

“Really? Is that it? Literally just tagged on a few woolly comments,” said one school business leader on twitter. “Guess what DfE, we’ve already stepped up cleaning, we did that a while ago now.”

“As clear as mud then. Nothing we haven’t already been told!” another education professional tweeted.