It's official: DfE doesn't know how many schools have covid cases

The Department for Education does not hold information on the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in schools, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.

The return to school has been disrupted with reports hundreds of schools have sent children home after suspected covid-19 cases, or a struggle to get those with symptoms tested.

An FOI submitted in July asked the DfE for the names and locations of all schools in which there have been confirmed cases of Covid-19 since June 1.

Responding on August 11, the department refused to answer the request, stating: “Following a search of our paper and electronic records I can confirm that the department doesn’t not [sic] hold this information.”

Schools Week asked the department whether this situation had now changed since schools reopened, and to tell us how many schools had closed.

But a spokesperson would only say they are “monitoring schools where groups of pupils are isolating and the limited number of closures, through regular contact with local authorities and self-reporting from schools”.

“This is to ensure that schools that are closed completely have only done so on the back of public health advice,” a spokesperson said.

When pressed again on whether the department knows the number of schools that have had cases, the spokesperson would not answer and said they had nothing further to add.

A Public Health England study published in August found there were 30 outbreaks of Covid-19 in schools and other educational settings in June 2020.

Of the 67 single confirmed cases, 30 were in children and 37 were in staff. And of the 121 people affected by outbreaks, 30 were children and 91 were staff.

The study also recorded how schools and other educational settings responded to cases.

Of the schools with single confirmed cases that provided information, 90 per cent sent the individual and their contact bubble home.

Four schools decided to close entirely “because of a perceived risk of onward transmission, although this was contrary to national recommendations”.

PHE publishes a weekly surveillance report on the number of covid cases, including in education settings, but it tends to be several days behind.

In the most recent report published on Friday, which covers the period between August 31 and September 6, it said there had been an increase in acute respiratory infection incidents in educational settings – the week that schools reopened.

A total of 23 incidents were from educational settings, where 16 had at least one linked case that tested positive for coronavirus. This was up from 9 cases in the previous week.

An “incident” is classed as a “confirmed outbreak” where two or more “laboratory confirmed cases (COVID-19, influenza or other respiratory pathogen) [are] linked to a particular setting”.

But headteachers have warned the problems with lack of testing will force schools to close as teachers and pupils with suspected covid cases have to self-isolate.

Schools Week reported last week how a school in Suffolk had to move to education its pupils on a rota system because of the number of staff self-isolating.

However disruption is still rare. Not a single respondent to a Teacher Tapp poll of 8,000 teachers on Thursday said their whole school had closed.

Four per cent of teachers said they had large groups of pupils staying at home – ranging from a whole class to several year groups.