NEU urges government to consider rota system for secondaries in lockdown areas

A teachers’ union is urging the government to consider the potential of secondary schools moving to a rota system in ‘high’ and ‘very high’ risk areas.

The National Education Union says that as of October 16, its analysis shows the infection rate in secondary schools is “now 17 times higher than it was on September 1”.

Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, NEU’s joint general secretaries, say this is “alarming” and that it was “crucial the government looks at all potential measures to stabilise the situation”.

They say this could include the possibility of moving to a rota system for secondary schools and colleges in tier 2 and 3 areas under the government’s local Covid alert level system.

Under the Department for Education’s own control framework, moving to a rota system is classed as tier 2. Currently, schools in ‘high’ and ‘very high’ risk areas are classed as tier 1 (meaning pupils and staff should wear face masks in communal areas).

But the NEU claimed the “education system will be plunged into disarray” if nothing is put in place to try and reduce infection levels.

DfE’s revamped attendance statistics showed that around half of all state-funded secondary schools have pupils self-isolating, with 409,000 pupils not attending school for covid related reasons last week.

In a letter requesting to “urgently” meet with education secretary Gavin Williamson, Bousted and Courtney said: “We are of the view that it is now necessary to consider having the conversation with civic leaders and school leaders on what these rotas should look like.

“Rotas will enable better social distancing in schools, and proper, regularised arrangements to be made to enable high quality blended learning to be planned for and delivered.”

The NEU has put together a report on the pros and cons of a rota system, based on colleges who have already implemented them.

In the letter, they say they were “particularly concerned” about statistics showing the low attendance rates in some areas of the country.

As Schools Week reported this week, Liverpool, Calderdale and Knowsley, all of which are in the ‘very high’ tier, reported attendance rates of 67, 64 and 61 per cent respectively. While Kingston upon Thames, which recorded 68 per cent, is currently in tier 2.

In the Office for National Statistics’ Infection Survey, which estimates the numbers testing positive for the coronavirus, they say there has been growth in infection rates in all age groups over the past two weeks, with the current rates highest in older teenagers and young adults.

But they do warn extreme caution should be taken in over-interpreting small movements in the narrower age groups, particularly those in school Years 7 to 11, which have wider credible intervals.

The NEU’s own analysis, which looks at the ONS data, found that from September 1 the rate of covid-19 infection per 100,000 for secondary age pupils went from 40 to 660 by October 16.

This is compared to 130 to 2,050 over the same timescale for those in school year 12 to age 24.

The Financial Times reported this week that a series of studies have cast doubt on the role of schools in spreading the coronavirus. But The Independent has reported that a study published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal found reopening schools following coronavirus lockdowns is linked to a surge in transmissions within a month.

The DfE has been approached for comment.

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  1. Mark Watson

    So our two titans of the union movement suggest that it is “crucial the government looks at all potential measures to stabilise the situation”.

    I’m surprised that Bubs hasn’t commented about how grateful we should be for insightful comments such as this. Without Maz and Kev and their help I’m sure the Government would have overlooked the notion of considering all possible ways of dealing with this once-in-several-lifetimes health crisis.

    Unfortunately I think the real takeaway from this piece is that the FT’s studies show schools aren’t the problem, and the Lancet’s studies show they are. When the experts can’t come to a general consensus it makes it rather hard for any politician to decide how to proceed.

    • Mr. Watson, it was a boring article about a Union that will get no traction so I left it alone.

      However the repeated stating that; schools don’t contribute to the spread, will stay open on moral grounds and exams will go ahead will be judged for their accuracy over time.

      I think it is a bit more nuanced:

      Schools are not closed – never did – many are not fully open though.

      Schools contribution to the spread is uncertain at this time.

      I don’t know what the ‘William Hill’ odds are for exams ‘going ahead as normal’ are. I do know I shall not be having a flutter.

      • Mark Watson

        I wasn’t sure about taking your name in vain, but I do understand your opening comment.

        I also full agree with you about this being a nuanced issue. The problem is that the reality is we don’t know, and can’t know, how things will develop. The world as a whole will have to adapt and react over the coming months and years, and nothing is certain.

        The problem is that saying “we’ll have to wait and see and react according to how the situation develops” is not politically or socially acceptable. Understandably the public would like some degree of certainty, even if this is unrealistic, and all media outlets harangue politicians as incompetent if they can’t give a clear answer.

        So for example how long will Manchester be in lockdown? We all know that the proper answer is “as long as it takes to get things under control”, but everyone wants a specific date. Bonkers.

        Do schools contribute to the spread to an extent that outweighs the benefit of them being open? Despite what people with vested interests (on both sides of the fence say) I would be prepared to have a large flutter that the true answer is we just don’t know yet.

        I don’t agree with a lot of what the Government is doing, but I do believe that the decisions they make are the ones that they believe are in the best interests of the country as a whole given the information they have at that time. A problem we have is that when new information comes to light which changes how we view Covid, and policies have to change, the first thing the media does is scream “embarrassing U-turn” and portray the previous policy as incompetent.

        With regards to exams at the end of this year, I don’t think anyone in the corridors of power would genuinely believe there is a 100% chance of them going ahead as normal. But if they came out today and said exams might not go ahead, how would that affect pupil’s enthusiasm and therefore learning over the next couple of terms? My (amateur) opinion is that it would be better for them to work on the basis that the exams will go ahead and then call them off, then work on the basis they might not go ahead and then panic when they are confirmed as happening.

        I wouldn’t want to be making decisions in Government right now.

        • Mr. Watson, a considered response. I think the electorate would highly value genuine, nuanced honesty. If leadership is to work overtime it needs to be honest and genuine therefore building adhesion to it’s directives and aims.

          Three word slogans and moon shot world beating rhetoric is much harder to defend over time.

          The media is constant ‘white noise’ and the electorate knows that to a very large degree it could be argued.

          I can completely understand why you would not want to a decision maker in Government right now. You don’t have to be.

          They wanted to be and want to make the decisions – they have to examined and held to account for it. Have their moon shots beaten the world? If they don’t want to asked silly questions like that stop making silly statements that beg such silly a question.

          • Mark Watson

            So the weekend has, I believed, proved my point above. The Government has put in place a second lockdown. Whether or not you agree with it, the purpose is to bring the infection & death rates down. Predictably we have two groups of hot-air merchants up in arms – one group saying this goes too far, the other saying it doesn’t go far enough and should have happened earlier. We have some unions saying schools should stay open, and some unions saying they should close. We also have that pillock Farage seeing this as his chance to get some limelight again, but I won’t go there now.

            The point I’m making is that some Cabinet ministers (whisper it, but they include Gove), have come out and said that although they are looking to the lockdown coming to an end on 4 December, this is provisional on the rates coming back down to an acceptable level. If they don’t then lockdown might have to be extended.

            To quote Bubs, this seem to be “genuine, nuanced honesty”, as well as simple common sense. If it needs longer to make things better so be it. But the reaction from the media, and the public if you can go by social media, has been beyond hysterical.