Teachers fear omicron will ‘rip through schools’ and could push learning online

Levels of staff absences ‘likely to worsen because of the omicron variant’, education union says

Zoe Tidman
Monday 29 November 2021 21:43
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<p>The government has stepped up advice on wearing masks in secondary schools</p>

The government has stepped up advice on wearing masks in secondary schools

Teachers fear the new Covid variant starting to spread across the UK will “rip through schools” and could see learning pushed online.

Some schools have already sent pupils home to learn remotely due to a rise in Covid cases and staff absences.

It comes as the government tightened guidance in response to the omicron variant, advising face masks in communal areas in secondary schools, except for in classrooms. Close contacts of a confirmed or suspected omicron case also have to isolate for 10 days, even if they are under the age of 18.

But despite the stricter advice, teachers fear schools could face more cases and disruption due to the variant.

One primary school headteacher in Liverpool told The Independent that they “worry omicron will rip through settings.”

The headteacher said the new advice did not give any new ideas and focused on “all the things we are currently doing”, such as ensuring good hygiene and keeping spaces well-ventilated.

One change has been face masks in secondary schools being advised in communal areas again, but headteachers have raised questions over the exclusion of classrooms.

Andy Byers, the headteacher at Framwellgate School Durham, told The Independent his school were introducing face masks in lessons on top of the other communal areas recommended.

“If the aim is to reduce transmission I don’t understand the government’s view that this can happen at break and lunchtime but not during lessons,” he said.

After the new measures for schools were announced, the education secretary said closing schools was the last possible option in the fight against the omicron variant.

But Julie McCulloch from the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) warned it may end up leading to more remote learning.

She said the “real difficulty” was managing remote learning for groups self-isolating as well as teaching students allowed to be in school.

“This is even more challenging because many schools are experiencing high levels of staff absence as a result of Covid, and this situation is likely to worsen because of the Omicron variant,” the union’s director of policy told The Independent.

“This can quickly become unsustainable and may necessitate moving year groups to remote education for short periods of time.

“Local directors of public health may also advise similar action to break chains of transmission when other steps have failed.”

Some schools have pushed more learning online in recent weeks due to Covid, with St Mary’s Church of England Primary in Hereford and Darwen Aldridge Enterprise Studio in Lancashire sending all pupils home to learn online for a short period of time.

Larchwood Primary School in Essex also sent a whole class home this week after authorities found the school was linked to an omicron case in the area.

A Department for Education spokesperson said the government is “committed to protecting face-to-face education”.

“We have strengthened our protective measures in a targeted and proportionate way while we find out more about the omicron variant,” they said.

“Thanks to the vaccination programme we are in a very different situation to last year. It remains absolutely vital that anyone eligible for further doses of the vaccine takes up the offer as soon as possible.”

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