On 3rd August, Parents United UK and One Voice Support Group created an Open Letter to leaders, and Ministers for Education and Health for all UK countries, and their Shadow counterparts as part of our Global Safe Schools campaign.
The letter calls for a sensible, safe and sustainable approach to the full reopening of schools in September 2021, in order to protect the wellbeing and education of children and young people. This is only possible in the context of effective pandemic controls, which necessarily take the form of non-pharmaceutical interventions where the opportunity to vaccinate is limited.
Read the letter and add your signature using one of the two forms below – whichever fits your circumstances.
Parents, Carers and Grandparents Sign Here
Public Figures, Experts and Organisations Sign Here
For the Attention of:
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
First Ministers for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
Leader of the Opposition for the UK, and all devolved administrations
Secretary of State for Education, Education Ministers in all Devolved Administrations and their Shadow counterparts
Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and Ministers for Health and Social Care in all devolved nations, and their Shadow counterparts
It is a moral and scientific imperative that the reopening of schools occurs only with appropriate mitigations to limit transmission of Covid-19 in place. Failure to improve upon the current guidelines will once again lead to a high number of infections in school age children, many of whom will suffer long term detrimental impacts on their educational, physical and mental well-being.
All children have a fundamental human right to be educated in a safe, healthy environment, and families living with clinical vulnerability stand to be particularly affected by a lack of mitigations in schools. We would draw attention to the threat which this poses to the civil liberties of such families, who may feel they are being forced to choose between physical safety and the education of the child.
Although most parents of school aged children will have received 2 doses of the vaccine by the time schools reopen, some individuals have a medical condition which means they cannot benefit directly from vaccination, as it may be unsafe for it to be administered to them, or they cannot mount an immune response to it. In addition, the overwhelming majority of children with clinical vulnerabilities remain unvaccinated, and are particularly at risk should they contract Covid-19.
Aside from a very small proportion of Clinically Extremely Vulnerable children over the age of 12 and young people aged 16 and over, children remain unvaccinated: infections and hospitalisations amongst UK school aged children have been higher during the third wave than at any other point in the pandemic, and between 7 and 8% of school-aged children and 10% of adults are known to experience symptoms of long-covid for in excess of 3 months post infection.
Despite this, what few protections were in place to prevent transmission within schools are being removed, and the advantages of previous controls to suppress the virus are being jettisoned. Bubbles had served to reduce the number of contacts for each person in a school, and therefore the number of opportunities they each had to contract SAR-CoV-2 and transmit it to others. Head teacher led Track and Trace was more appropriate to a school context than the use of central services, as the unreliable memories of children and guess work by parents not present in the classroom are unlikely to yield effective results. Of greatest concern is the decimation of the self isolation protocol for close contacts; reliance on voluntary testing leaves ample opportunity for non-compliance, and insistence that potentially infected individuals continue attending their settings will likely result in an uplift in transmission.
The impact of the reduction in covid safety measures in schools is amplified by the context in which this will occur. It is incredibly unlikely that the high rates of community infection resulting from the dominance of the Delta variant, it’s high transmissibility and greater level of vaccine escape will subside by the time schools are set to reopen.
To remove mitigations in schools at this juncture is unconscionable, and poses a threat not only to individual children and their families, but also to the UK’s vaccine strategy and worldwide pandemic recovery: high Covid-19 case numbers amongst unvaccinated children in the context a population where the majority of adults are vaccinated provides fertile ground for the development of variants with a potentially high level of vaccine escape.
We therefore call on the government to instigate the following measures with immediate effect, and ensure that children can be in receipt of the school-based education to which they are entitled without placing themselves, their families, their communities or the entire population at unacceptable risk.
- Offer the choice for children aged 12 or over to be vaccinated, with immediate effect.
- Reinstate and make smaller bubbles to limit the number of contacts each person in a school meets.
- Reinstate track and trace within schools.
- Reintroduce close contact isolation for school aged children.
- Advise parents of all cases at their child’s school, so that they are in full possession of the relevant facts and can take personal responsibility for the protection of their family.
- Reinstatement of face coverings in secondary schools until cases in a local authority area are below 50 cases per 100,000.
- Reduction of class sizes to facilitate social distancing where cases in a local authority area excess 50 cases per 100,000. This may be achieved through the resourcing of additional spaces and staff, or by implementing a blended learning model incorporating distance learning and in-person attendance, as appropriate for the needs of the children being taught.
- Supported home learning and the removal of the threat of fines and pressure to attend in-person education for children of families with household clinical vulnerability, including those with familial caring responsibilities for vulnerable individuals.
- A comprehensive mitigation strategy of long-range airborne transmission risks in every school, including short term measures such as the provision of Indoor Air Quality monitors, HEPA filtration where ventilation is insufficient, and full resourcing of ventilation improvements across the entire education building stock to meet the standards set out in PAS3003. Ultimately, statutory ventilation standards will be needed to ensure that all public buildings and workplaces become safe havens from the death and disease presently caused by poor indoor air quality.
Protection of the wellbeing and education of children and young people is only possible in the context of effective pandemic controls, which necessarily take the form of non-pharmaceutical interventions where the opportunity to vaccinate is limited.
The UK government has already taken an unethical and illogical gamble by removing all restrictions across society, foisting death, disability and social isolation on a significant number of citizens in the process. Extending this approach to our school environments is contemptuous to the population; it amounts to a directive to ignore the existence of Covid-19, and burdens our children with the consequences of the government’s inadequate containment strategy, some of which will be lifelong.
Yours, in hope of a Sensible, Safe and Sustainable way forward,
Parents United UK
Campaign for a Sensible, Safe and Sustainable approach to education during the pandemic, and Facebook group of 23,000 parents and carers of school aged children.
One Voice Group
Supporting over 1000 Clinically Vulnerable and Clinically Extremely Vulnerable families during Covid-19.
UN Convention on the Rights of Child, including the Right to Education, non-discrimination on the basis of age and the right of children with disability to live a full and active life as part of the community
The full text and list of signatories can be found here.