Schools have experienced significant disruption since March 2020.

Evidence suggests transmission of COVID-19 increases among schoolchildren when schools are open. This is particularly the case among children of secondary school age.

It remains difficult to compare the rates of transmission in schools compared to other settings.

There is some evidence that primary school aged children are less likely to be infected. It’s very clear that children and younger people are much less likely to suffer severe disease as a result of COVID-19.

There is also some evidence that children are less likely to spread the virus than adults – however this evidence is not conclusive.

In order to continue to protect pupils and staff it is important that risks to individual members of staff are considered.

Measures taken by schools

The measures put in place include:

  • Hand sanitiser and frequent hand washing
  • Consistent social distancing
  • Teaching in ‘bubbles’ of staff and pupils and ensuring that staff and pupils do not leave those bubbles (including bubbles having zoned areas for break and lunch times)
  • Removal of materials that cannot be easily sanitised
  • Rotas for use of shared spaces and large equipment with deep cleaning in between uses
  • Increased ventilation (weather permitting)
  • Phased drop off and pick-ups including limiting site access to one per family
  • Phased lunch times and lunches served in classrooms where appropriate
  • Arrangements for pupils showing symptoms: isolate, send home, test and appropriate arrangements for other pupils and staff in the bubble
  • PPE for intimate care and staff waiting with pupils showing symptoms
  • Increased communications with children, young people, parents/carers and staff to ensure compliance to risk measures

The Council’s work with schools

We have worked with schools and trade unions to provide data and guidance.

Our health and safety team has supported some schools to carry out their risk assessments.

Our education and public health teams have provided support on understanding the government guidance on COVID-19.

In September 2020 we set up a dedicated team to provide support to schools when dealing with positive cases.

The team works seven days a week and provides:

  • Responses to queries from educational settings or key partners
  • Logging of positive cases, including identifying infectious periods and providing guidance on tracking of close contact
  • Support on communication with staff and communities
  • Intelligence to support the local outbreak planning
  • Reporting to key partners on school bubble closures and linking to children’s social care for vulnerable children
  • Support to schools with risk assessment planning
  • The sharing of good practice across education settings
  • Interpretation of new guidance on practice for schools

Through improved planning and risk management in schools, the average isolation bubble size has decreased by 41% across the South Tees area. This means more children and young people are safely remaining in education.

Dealing with outbreaks in schools

Public Health England’s North East Health Protection Team (HPT) will involve the Council when:

  • a whole or partial school closure is required
  • linked cases are identified in other schools
  • there is an increase in cases across several schools

If an outbreak is declared, a team will be set up to support the school, its staff, pupils and parents. The team will include representatives from the school and the Council’s education, health and safety, public health and public protection and communications teams.

The team will provide any support and action required. Technical advice will be provided by the HPT and the Health Protection Board.

How cases will be identified in schools

Covid-19 cases with links to schools will be identified in two ways:

  • NHS Test and Trace will notify the HPT when a case has links to a school
  • Schools will also alert the Council to positive cases or unusually high numbers of absences

Testing in schools

All school and college staff are encouraged to take regular LFD tests.

Students of secondary school age and above are also encouraged to take regular LFD tests.

As of April 2021, everyone in England is able to access free LFD tests.

Details of how to access the kits in Middlesbrough can be found here.