Teachers in England are no more likely to contract Covid-19 than other key workers, according to data that appears to bolster the government’s argument for keeping schools open.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) found there was no difference in the rates of positive cases between teachers and other professionals working outside of the home between 2 September and 16 October.
It looked at rates among teachers, other key workers including healthcare and care home workers, and other professionals who worked outside their homes on at least one day of their working week.
But a teachers’ union that has been pushing for schools to close seized on ONS data showing a fall in the number of Covid-19 cases among secondary students during the half-term break as evidence of the role of schools in transmitting the virus.
The National Education Union (NEU) said the fall showed that the prime minister’s reluctance to make use of half-term to implement a circuit breaker lockdown was a “squandered opportunity”.
“We should expect the rates in secondary schools to begin to rise again after the half-term effect, and along with them the number of children who are off school,” said Kevin Courtney, a joint general secretary of the NEU.
The union cited ONS data that it said showed that the number of secondary students estimated to have had Covid at the end of half term stood at 1,530, compared with 1,770 at the beginning of the week-long break.
Among primary school and younger children (aged two and up), cases rose slightly in the same period, from 960 on Monday 26 October to 1,190 on Saturday 30 October.
Separately, the chief inspector of Ofsted said on Friday that some schools may be sending children home “too readily” during the pandemic, and called for a “simplification” of advice for schools.
Amanda Spielman told a conference that parents of special educational needs and disabilities (Send) pupils had been told that schools cannot accommodate their children due to Covid-19 risk assessments.
“There are myths doing the rounds about what schools have to do, or must not do, such as no singing or swimming and keeping all doors open no matter the weather,” she said at the online National Children and Adult Services Conference (NCASC).
“And there are indications that schools may sometimes be sending pupils home too readily. So, a consolidation and simplification of government advice for schools would be helpful for teachers and parents alike as we head towards the winter.”
Spielman highlighted a rise in the number of parents opting to home-school this term, and said “quite a proportion” of the children had special educational needs. “And here, many parents haven’t made an active decision to keep their child at home, they’ve been told that schools can’t accommodate them. Because it’s too difficult, because Covid risk assessments won’t allow it. It’s deeply concerning and, understandably, many parents feel cut adrift.”