Councils order schools to REFUSE to open over Test and Trace concerns

Councils order schools to REFUSE to open on June 1 because NHS Test and Trace system is not ‘well established and robust enough’ to allow pupil numbers to increase safely

  • Children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 are due to return to classes on Monday
  • Boris Johnson insists five key tests for easing coronavirus lockdown being met
  • But local authorities including Sheffield and Lancashire are taking stern action 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Councils are urging schools not to open to more pupils on Monday over fears the NHS Test and Trace system will not be ‘robust enough’ to safely allow an increase in numbers.

Sheffield and Lancashire are among the local authorities to take action after Boris Johnson declared the Government’s five key tests required for easing of the lockdown have been met – and so more children can return to classes.  

Primary schools across England are due to welcome back pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 from June 1.

Classrooms will have to operate with tables and chairs socially distanced, as they are at Grove Road Primary School, Tring, pictured

But council bosses have raised concerns over the rolling out of the much-trumpeted programme yesterday.

Test and Trace requires people who develop coronavirus symptoms to self-isolate for seven days and to order a test.

If they test positive for the disease they must then hand over phone numbers and email addresses for people they have interacted with in recent days.

Those people will then be contacted and told that they must go into quarantine for 14 days – but they will not find out who originally tested positive.

The need for secrecy has been partially blamed on a fear of reprisals from people angry at being told to stay at home and potentially losing out financially if they are unable to work.

HOW NHS TEST AND TRACE WORKS

 The NHS Test and Trace programme will be split into two parts. They are: 

Part One

Step One: Isolate. When someone gets symptoms they should self-isolate for seven days. Anyone in the same household should do the same.

Step Two: Test. They should order a coronavirus test online or by calling 119.

Step Three: Results. If a test is positive they must complete seven days in isolation. Anyone in the same household should complete 14 days. If it is negative no one needs to isolate.

Step Four: Contacts. People with a positive test will be contacted via text or email or by phone and told to answer questions and share phone numbers and email addresses for close contacts.

Part Two – For People Flagged As Contacts

Step One: Alert. People flagged will get a text or email. They will then be told what they need to do.

Step Two: Isolate. They will be asked to self-isolate for up to 14 days based on when they last came into contact with the person. Other household members do not need to self-isolate unless symptoms are present.

Step Three: Test. If they develop symptoms all other household members should self-isolate. They should then order a test. If it is positive self-isolation must continue for seven days. If negative you must still complete 14 days in case the virus is not yet showing. 

But there are concerns that not revealing who has named someone could leave the system open to abuse in the form of pranks or people maliciously reporting someone they have not come into contact with.

Sheffield City Council said it does ‘not yet feel assured that it is the right time’ to admit more children and is advising schools and nurseries ‘to delay increasing numbers’ until June 15.

Similarly, Lancashire County Council said the programme ‘is not at a state of readiness’ to quickly respond to Covid-19 outbreaks and thus ‘poses a risk to school environments’. 

Meanwhile, more than a dozen other town halls have publicly objected to the plans to return to classes on Monday, though not specifically to do with the Test and Trace project.

Councillor Abtisam Mohamed, Sheffield’s cabinet member for education and skills, said: ‘We have been advised by the Sheffield director of public health, Greg Fell, who has reviewed the local position, and he does not feel assured that the recently announced Test and Trace programme will be sufficiently well-established and robust enough to be in place for June 1.

‘He has advised that the Test and Trace system should be in place and working effectively for 14 days before schools and nurseries begin increasing their numbers.’

Mr Mohamed went on: ‘We do not yet feel assured that it is the right time and are advising our schools and nurseries to delay increasing numbers until June 15.

‘For maintained schools, where the council is the employer, we are instructing schools not to increase the number of children attending more widely.

‘For all other schools, academies, and nurseries in Sheffield, we are strongly advising that they also delay their wider reopening to June 15.’

Director of Public Health for Lancashire County Council, Dr Sakthi Karunanithi said: ‘The safety and wellbeing of Lancashire’s children, families and school staff are of paramount importance to us. 

Sheffield City Council, based at the town hall, pictured, does not believe Test and Trace is ‘robust enough’

‘We have carefully assessed the five tests the government has set for the easing of the lockdown measures and, at this stage, we cannot say with confidence that all of them are being met in Lancashire.

‘Therefore we are advising schools that they should not reopen to more pupils from June 1. We will keep this advice under constant review and, as soon as we believe it is safe for schools to open, we will inform schools and the public.’  

Education unions – including school leaders’ union NAHT and teachers’ union NASUWT – raised their concerns about reopening schools on June 1 with Education Secretary Gavin Williamson on Thursday.

Nine unions, representing school leaders, teachers and support staff, said they ‘stressed the importance of monitoring the impact of returning more pupils to school’ and listening to the experience of staff.

A joint statement, published by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) today, said: ‘We will be working closely with the Department to ensure that the guidance is a living document, informed by all those delivering care and education in every school in the country.

‘Over the next two weeks we will be working with our members to submit their experiences of reopening schools and will raise these issues with the Education Secretary.’

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