Scientific advisers to the government told ministers they should have an effective track, trace and isolate strategy as they reopen schools.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants schools to reopen on 1 June and there is doubt over whether such a system will be in place.
The advisers have also said that teachers do not appear to be at a greater risk of catching COVID-19 than other professions – but there is still some risk if schools reopen.
The advisers suggested some form of coronavirus testing in school takes place.
They also said that it is safe to reopen schools as long as the speed of infection, known as the R rate, is below 1 – a condition which is currently being met.
News of their advice comes as SAGE released its reasoning for how schools could be reopened safely. Key points include:
- Evidence on how likely children are to transmit the coronavirus remains “inconclusive”, with a separate review of global studies led by University College London found those aged under 20 had 56% less chance of being infected
- Teachers do not appear to be more at risk of catching COVID-19 than other professions, but there is still some risk if schools reopen
- The attendance of younger teachers could be prioritised to decrease the likelihood of infection for staff in more vulnerable groups
- Wider contextual issues – like whether families have black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) members – has to be considered when looking at the impact of relaxing school closures on transmission of the virus
Downing Street has faced growing calls to release the science behind its move to potentially begin a phased reopening of primary schools from 1 June.
Under plans to ease the coronavirus lockdown unveiled by the PM earlier this month, children in nursery, reception, Year 1 and Year 6 will return to their classrooms.
A final decision on whether to go ahead with reopening schools is expected to be taken by the government on or before 28 May, after the most up-to-date scientific evidence has been reviewed.
Mr Johnson has promised a “world-beating” track and trace system to stop a second COVID-19 peak and help ease the lockdown will be in place by the time schools begin to reopen.
But the push to reopen schools has sparked opposition from some quarters, with more than two dozen councils saying they will not begin allowing pupils back from that date.
Unions have also expressed concerns about whether teachers, support staff and pupils will be safe.
According to a poll by the Unison union, only 2% of school staff said they felt reassured by the PM’s speech and recent government guidance on reopening.
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, told Sky News the plans to reopen schools were “descending into chaos”.
“It was told that [1 June] was too quick, it was told that schools wouldn’t have time to prepare,” she said.
“The government was told that the evidence was not there that it would be safe to reopen schools. The evidence is still not there.”
Adam Cooper, headteacher of Knavesmire Primary School in York, told Sky News after reading the documents: “There is a lot of information to pull out from this, but there are a lot of “maybes”, “mights,” “can”.
“It puts you in a position of are you are confident to open, or confident not to open? You are still caught in the middle with that, I think.”
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