Schools left to decide on turning away pupils with Covid symptoms

Unions say schools are in an 'impossible position' as Covid requirements ease, with fears of conflict with parents

Unions say schools are in an 'impossible position' as Covid requirements ease, with fears of conflict with parents

25 Feb 2022, 12:34

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The government has left schools to make their own decisions over turning pupils with Covid symptoms away, amid fears of conflict with parents.

School leaders’ union NAHT had demanded “clear and unambiguous guidance” for schools and parents when the legal requirement to self-isolate with Covid was scrapped this week.

The government has now updated guidance for parents and carers who “insist” on children attending with symptoms.

It informs them schools can still “take the decision to refuse your child if, in their reasonable judgement, it is necessary to protect other pupils and staff from possible infection”.

Similar wording is used in operational guidance for schools themselves, though it says such decisions can be made for pupils with either “confirmed or suspected” cases. There is no explicit reference to symptoms.

A line in the advice for parents – but not schools – adds: “Their decision would need to be carefully considered in light of all the circumstances and current public health advice.”

School leaders meanwhile are told that “in most cases” parents will agree children with symptoms should remain at home.

But Geoff Barton, general secretary of school leaders’ union ASCL, had warned on Monday that eased restrictions risked more disruption if more positive pupils came into classrooms.

“The change in the rules to advise rather than require self-isolation also opens the door for conflict with parents who may interpret symptoms that may or may not be coronavirus differently from their child’s teachers.”

But ASCL wrote to members on Friday highlighting UK Health Security Agency and DfE guidance, with Barton saying it now “appears clear that schools and colleges should have robust policies in place”.

This means asking anyone with symptoms to stay at home and take a PCR test, and anyone positive staying home until they test negative for two days from day five, he said.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of leaders’ union NAHT, had also previously demanded “clear and unambiguous guidance” on what to do if pupils or staff had Covid.

He said schools could not be expected to manage decisions on an individual basis. “Without that clarity, there is a real risk the government could create a chaotic situation in schools and put school leaders in an impossible position.”

He welcomed the “helpful” clarity on Friday that schools could still refuse pupils entry with Covid symptoms, but said most families were likely to continue to keep their children off.

The updated parental guidance gives less prominence to efforts to discourage infectious pupils from attending, however.

The document previously made clear: “Do not send your child to their nursery, childminder, school [or] college” if they have one or more symptoms or a positive test. It also said they should avoid public transport.

But the lines have now been scrapped, with a link instead to general public health guidance.

It says pupils with Covid should not attend education settings “while they are infectious”. They should return only after two negative lateral flow tests from the fifth day of symptoms, and only if they feel well enough to do so and do not have a temperature.

The general guidance also recommends avoiding “crowded places” and busy times on public transport where individuals have to leave home.

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