A major new report today has called on the government to introduce new tests next year so the loss of learning because of lockdown can be measured.
Put together by the Data Evaluation and Learning for Viral Epidemics (DELVE), which advises government scientists, the report has warned of the potential impact of closures on pupils (see our news story here).
The study calls for keeping schools open to be the “default policy” of government.
Here’s the group’s key proposals for how they think that can happen:
1. More covid cash and PPE for schools
The group concluded that providing “realistic guidance” and “substantial” extra resources would ensure schools can minimise the risk of transmission. They said the cash could be used to pay for extra teachers, PPE for staff, and prioritising vaccines for teachers.
2. Close high-risk facilities such as pubs first
The group said an effective monitoring regime that can cope with any rise in case load during the Winter is essential. That would include “broad surveillance” linked to an “effective, sufficiently scaled and rapid test-trace-isolate system, as well as systematic outbreak investigation”.
This would mean that, if local outbreaks do occur, regions can close other facilities where the risk of transmission is higher first – for instance pubs or gyms – before considering school closures.
3. A local alert system for schools
A series of “pre-defined” local alert levels have been proposed, based on “clear, comprehensible, data-driven and public criteria” defining each escalation.
Examples given range from an alert being sent to schools where there are sporadic cases or clusters in the local community, to considering individual school closures where there are “clear clusters in school across year groups”. National-scale closures would be a “last resort”.
4. ‘Clear responsibility’ for who makes closures call
The group said the number of key agencies involved in school closure decisions means the “scope for slow and muddled decision-making is obvious”.
They want “clear responsibility” for the agencies involved, listed as councils, Public Health England, the joint biosecurity centre and the Department for Education.
“Before September, these agencies need to determine a coherent chain of command and responsibility to take effective local decisions,” the report adds.
5. Covid tests should record school connections
The group wants the “minimal” data collection from those tested for covid-19 to include any school connections, such as whether the person is a teacher or parent. This data must then be made available to the relevant decision makers in a timely fashion.
6. Anonymous tests to ‘gauge extent of learning loss’
The report attempts to compare the cost of school closures on pupils’ learning with the health risk of reopening.
The group suggests running anonymised assessments in a sample of schools – one in September and one at the end of the 2020-21 year – so it’s possible to identify the “extent and nature” of both learning loss and students’ mental health.
They also call for more case studies to better understand the transmission among children of different ages, with “experimentation and better evaluation” encouraged to find which strategies work best in reducing the transmission.
There must also be “good knowledge exchange mechanisms to share learning across the education system”.
7. Further roll-out of flu vaccines?
The group suggests a cost-benefit analysis of widening the eligibility for the flu vaccination to secondary-school children is conducted.
8. Use behavioural scientists for parent communication
The government has been urged to establish “effective, clear and unified communication with school leaders, teachers and parents to manage opening and closing of schools in response to local conditions”. The communication to parents should be informed by behavioural science to make sure the messages are “salient, clear and consistent”, the group said.