Covid: UK ‘heading towards school closures’ in new year, education committee chairman says

UK is heading towards school closures in the new year if no action is taken to prevent Covid putting huge sections of the teaching staff in isolation, the president of the Education The committee warned.

Robert Halfon told MPs the government should work to ensure there is an “army” of substitute teachers ready to replace school staff if they are forced to quarantine themselves by the new Omicron variant of the rapidly spreading coronavirus.

There are already hundreds of thousands of cases of the strain in the UK, according to estimates from the UK Health Safety Agency and its chief. Dr Jenny Harries said it was spreading at an “appalling” rate, doubling less than every other day.

Tory MP M. Halfon said ‘it looks to me like we are sadly headed for de facto school closures’ as he called on the government to prepare schools for what is expected to be a huge Omicron wave .

“There is a nationwide campaign for an army of NHS volunteers but not for education.

“Why isn’t a similar army of retired teachers or Ofsted inspectors being recruited to support schools struggling to meet staffing needs? ” He asked.

“Can’t we have the same vision, the same passion, the same resources for educational service that we have for the National Health Service?

Robert Halfon is Chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee. Credit: Pennsylvania

In response, Education Minister Alex Burghart said “the government is throwing out the kitchen sink to ensure that before schools return all adults have had a chance to get their booster.”

“The key to our success in the battle against Omicron will be the recall program,” he said, adding that “this is how we maximize our chances of ensuring our children receive world-class education. they deserve “.

Describing other measures to maintain education, the minister said there would be “on-site lateral flow testing on return for high school students, regular ongoing home testing for education sectors and child care, and a comprehensive emergency framework to manage epidemics ”.

Labor called on the government to go even further by pledging to offer a coronavirus vaccine every 12 to 15 years by the end of the Christmas holidays.

A party spokesperson said: “We can no longer afford to further disrupt children’s education and that means schools are both safe and open so that students can continue to learn together.”

High school students are allowed to receive two doses of a Covid vaccine when they previously only had one, and everyone over 18 is now eligible for a booster three months after their second dose.

The fast-track campaign to give all adults a boost ahead of the New Year has seen a dramatic increase in participation since Boris Johnson cautioned against the Omicron variant on Sunday.

A recording 656,711 booster and third doses of the Covid-19 vaccine were reported in the UK on Tuesday, according to new figures.

But another record was also broken on Wednesday as UK reported highest number of daily laboratory-confirmed Covid cases, demonstrating the rapid speed at which Omicron spreads.

As of Wednesday, 78,610 more cases were recorded, more than 10,000 more cases than the previous record of 68,053 on January 8, 2021.

But parents were told they should not remove their children from school early this term.

Responding to suggestions, some parents were keeping their children at home to prevent anyone from catching Covid-19 and being forced into self-isolation over Christmas, the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said: ‘The best place for children – who have in many ways suffered the most through this pandemic – is in school, receiving vital face-to-face education. “

They added: “It is important that schools – and indeed parents – do not take precautionary measures to deprive their children of education.”

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Secondary schools will, however, have “a little flexibility” as to their return after Christmas, Education Minister Burghart said.

He said “the government is committed to ensuring that schools open normally in January”, with mass testing at the heart of the plan. “

Mr Burghart added: “We recommend that at the start of the next term all high school students be tested at the start of the term, and we are offering a little flexibility as to when schools can re-enter to ensure this. test can take place.

“We are providing additional funding to make sure these tests are available. I can reassure the Chamber that schools have and will have all the testing facilities they need.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We are sure that neither schools nor parents need Downing Street conferences.

“Everyone is doing their best to make education run as best they can under increasingly difficult circumstances and in the midst of endless and unnecessary speculation.

“We agree that the best place for children is at school, but we are also aware that there are very high infection rates in many settings and areas, causing enormous disruption.

“The Christmas holidays are only a few days away and it would be nice to make it without wagging your fingers.”

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