Growing number of schools with Covid-19 infections a ‘cause for concern’, union says

Children have to follow social distancing measures in school. Picture: Jacob King/PA

Children have to follow social distancing measures in school. Picture: Jacob King/PA - Credit: PA

A call has been made for every pupil in school bubbles to be sent home to self-isolate if classmates have coronavirus symptoms.

Cllr Zulfiqar Ali said: "Schools have performed extremely well to get students back into the classro

Cllr Zulfiqar Ali said: "Schools have performed extremely well to get students back into the classroom safely." Pic: Newham Council - Credit: Archant

Louise Cuffaro, secretary of Newham’s branch of the National Education Union, said the NEU had received reports of some schools not sending every member of a grouping home.

Ms Cuffaro said: “It’s clear the numbers of schools with Covid infections are growing and this is a cause for concern.

“Like elsewhere in the country, getting access to tests in Newham has been difficult and that’s why it’s important anyone who has Covid symptoms self-isolates immediately as do members of their households.

“For schools, that means everyone in the pupil’s bubble – whether that bubble is a class or a whole year group – must be sent home to self-isolate whenever there is a report of anyone in the bubble having Covid symptoms.

“Most schools understand this, but we have had some worrying reports of school managements insisting some staff and pupils stay in school.”

A Newham spokesperson said: “Newham Council has been working closely with our schools to make them a safe environment for pupils, teachers and all staff at this difficult time.

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“The union suggest in their statement that school bubbles should be sent home when an individual suffers symptoms. This is not correct – Public Health England are clear that in such a scenario a person with symptoms should go home to self isolate for 14 days and pursue a test.

“The bubble would only be sent home if that person then received a Covid-19 positive test.”

Cllr Zulfiqar Ali, cabinet member for education, health and social care, said on Thursday a small number of schools have sent pupils home.

He praised schools, saying more than 80 per cent of students attended last week.

Cllr Ali added there was little evidence of transmission in schools and it was crucial to reduce the virus’s spread in the community, especially households.

The NEU wants smaller classes to allow for social distancing; wi-fi and laptops for students and all staff dedicated to providing education for pupils who are isolating.

“We are particularly concerned for vulnerable staff who are feeling pressured to stay in school even though their risk in catching Covid 19 is increasing and more dangerous to them,” Ms Cuffaro said.

Shalema Khatun, of Newham Parents Action Group, said mums, dads and carers have reluctantly sent their children back to classrooms.

“The schools’ preparations looked good on paper, but on the ground realities are not the same,” she said.

Ms Khatun claimed some schools do not have adequate personal protective equipment or weren’t ensuring its use.

“We are constantly anxious about the children getting ill with Covid, especially given the difficulties in getting tests,” she said.

Both Ms Khatun and Ms Cuffaro reported 24 bubbles having “burst” in Newham by last Wednesday.

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