School leaders ‘concerned’ about increasing risk of coronavirus in winter
PUBLISHED: 05:30 24 September 2020 | UPDATED: 08:24 24 September 2020
School leaders in Suffolk have expressed their “concern” over the increasing coronavirus infection rates as we look ahead to the winter.
More than 300 students in Suffolk and at least six members of staff are self-isolating following confirmed cases of the disease within schools – amid fears the UK could see 50,000 Covid cases a day by mid-October unless urgent action is taken.
MORE: 300 students in Suffolk self-isolating due to coronavirus cases in schools
Mark Krisson, headteacher at Woodbridge Primary School, said he is concerned about the rising infection rate and the problem this poses for schools.
He said: “I have been watching the situation locally and nationally and I am concerned, as I think everyone is.
“I hope the measures which we have put in place can stop the spread of the virus so we can keep the children in school. It has been so great having them all back and we want this to continue.”
Mr Krisson said the school of 230 students is “lucky” to have a new building, but says every school faces its own challenges.
He said school staff spent over a week drafting the risk assessment for the students return, which will continue to be used over the winter period.
One of the measures the school has introduced is outdoor shelters with three sides to ensure maximum cover, while also allowing for ventilation.
“We are trying to minimise the risk wherever possible,” he said. “But it is just not possible for children to socially distance.”
The school field has been divided into quarters for each bubble, there are staggered break times, no use of the outdoor climbing equipment, a midday supervisor per class to keep children apart and four different breakfast clubs.
“We want the children outside as much as possible as ventilation is important,” said Mr Krisson. “We will only bring them inside when there is a downpour, but we may look at getting battery powered lighting for the outdoor shelters and possibly heating as an option too.”
The shelters have enough space for half a class, so the other half will remain inside and alternate.
Mr Krisson said he understands there is “no worry like parental worry” and reassures parents he is doing everything he can to minimise the risk and keep the children safe.
‘It’s a horrible situation’
Graham White, Suffolk spokesman for the NEU, said staff are “increasingly concerned about how to cope” in the upcoming winter period.
“Staff and schools in general are very worried,” said Mr White. “We saw the rates come down which was very encouraging, but now the rate is increasing along with the number of deaths which is making schools much more concerned.”
He worries the testing capacity is not available in Suffolk, meaning if staff develop symptoms it could be a long time before they can return to teaching due to delays.
He also warned there is not enough space for children to socially distance – adding they “just don’t do it”.
“It’s a horrible situation to be in,” he explained.
Mr White said he would welcome students going in on alternate days, adding that cutting class sizes in half would halve the possible number of transmissions.
He said: “Teachers are worried, but we must leave the judgement with the headteachers as to what is best for each individual school.”
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Parents urged to ensure pupils stick to school policies
Meanwhile, in a letter to parents and carers, Essex County Council said “we must all remain alert” regarding the rise of infection rates.
It said: “The return to education settings has been possible in a large part due to a reduction in Covid-19 cases in the community.
“This reduction is thanks to the sacrifices every member of the community made earlier this year, by staying at home, not seeing friends and relatives in person, and maintaining social distancing measures.
“However, as restrictions have been eased, and the rate of transmission is now rising, we must all remain alert.”
It also recognised the “tremendous efforts” of our schools and colleges over the last few months to put in place measures required to open safely.
It asked parents and carers for their support to ensure pupils adhere to the policies their school or college has in place – whether this is around phased starts, cleanliness, or maintaining class bubbles.
‘Everyone needs to do their bit’
Meanwhile, Jacqui Frost, executive officer for the Suffolk Primary School Headteacher’s Association, said school leaders face a “changeable feast” in the upcoming winter term.
She said on the whole headteachers are feeling “positive” about the measures which are in place and are keen to continue with schooling.
“Headteachers are keeping their eyes on the ball and have robust risk assessments in place,” said Mrs Frost, who was previously a headteacher at a number of Suffolk schools.
“Schools are now dealing with more children than they were last term, but there is lot’s of support and advice out there for staff and leaders.
“Coughs and colds are the peril of working with children, but everyone needs to do their bit and it’s important social distancing is instilled in both staff and students.”
She reassures concerned parents to speak to the school directly as she believed “fear comes from not knowing” and each school has different measures in place.
How are nurseries coping?
David Finch, managing director of Alpha Nurseries which has six sites in the Ipswich area, said social distancing isn’t his concern in the 27 nurseries he manages.
“You can’t socially distance young children,” he said. “My biggest concern is the coughs and colds children will get in the winter months and how me manage those and ensure they are not Covid-19.”
He said many of his nurseries are doing temperature checks on arrival and parents are now dropping their children off at phased starts.
These measures have been in place since June to avoid closing the nursery for just a regular cough or cold.
He said transmission rates in younger children are still “really low”, but he is concerned that staff may need to take time off if they develop symptoms.
There is currently no guidance from the government which advises nursery staff to wear masks, with Mr Finch adding children find them “extremely scary”.
He said his staff are very conscious of the virus and keep themselves safe outside of work to avoid bringing the virus in.
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