Voices from the petri dish –the issues we are facing, and what needs to happen next

20th October 2020 by Cat Wilson

Our schools are rapidly becoming hotbeds of infection and SARS-CoV-2 transmission, with many parents being forced to send their children to school, leaving them facing a myriad of issues. 

Amongst those issues presenting are:

  1. Rapidly declining health and wellbeing of the school community. Some children are getting very ill and have been hospitalised, some staff are also becoming very unwell.

2. 36% (PHE) of ALL of the transmission that has taken place over the last week has been in educational settings *, of which we (BRTUS: Parents United) have estimated 3000 plus educational settings with Covid-19 infections.

3. Transmission of the virus has increased 3000% in school settings since the removal of effective social distancing measures back in June and July.

4. A lot of children’s educational health and care plans (EHCP’s)  and ‘My Support’ plans are not being provided in full and some – not at all. Coronavirus guidance conflicts with some children’s special educational needs and disabilities provision, which means many children are going without appropriate ‘need meeting’ educational provision.

5. Passenger transport for SEND pupils has not been enhanced and is bursting bubbles as soon as our children leave their homes. Local Authority departments insist that there is no money, resources or staff to ensure bubbles are maintained. 

6. Many parents are currently facing threats and harassment from schools in a bid to force their children’s attendance within an unsafe environment. Many of these families have clinically extremely vulnerable people within their households. Many of these families are in extremely high transmission rate areas. The policy is to fine and prosecute these parents as a resolution to their extremely valid safety concerns.

7. Many children are being removed, bluntly from the schools register by schools or their parents are being told to deregister their children. This process has traditionally been called ‘off rolling.’ Sometimes, when a parent wishes to work with the school to facilitate their learning from home, they are being referred maliciously to social services and educational welfare offices. They then face continuous phone calls, letters and demands of safeguarding visits for Covid related concerns. This wastes social services time which is better spent safeguarding the children that the legislation was designed for.

8. Many parents have reported a lack of suitable remote provision during long isolation periods.

9. Many parents are reporting the use of an unauthorised absence code instead of code X for covid-19 related isolation which has resulted in the unnecessary initiation of threats of fines and prosecution and unwarranted referral to education welfare services and social services.

10. Schools have been directed not to inform all parents when there is a covid case at school and parents face even less transparency. This prevents them from making informed and responsible decisions to fulfil their parental responsibility to their child’s health and wellbeing. Testing is patchy and irregular at best.

11. Only close contacts are being isolated and tested, therefore we have seen a great increase in the amount of clusters emerging in school settings, with official figures quoting 298  (PHE/ONS) clusters in educational settings this week. Unofficially we are aware of at least 1,000 cluster level outbreaks at ground level.  (https://www.parentsunited.net/reported-covid-19-cases/)

12. The DfE appears to be telling schools to demand medical evidence of illness when a child is absent following the national guidance to isolate. This is not within GPs remit and is causing issues for them as well as the family as they are in the middle between the two.

What needs to happen next?

  1. The DfE needs to remove their blanket policy of fining and prosecuting children for keeping their children home and safe during the SARS- Cov- 2 pandemic.

2. The DfE and PHE need to begin releasing full, transparent data about the epidemic of Covid in our educational settings.

3. The DfE and PHE need to direct schools to a more understanding and sensitive approach to families and the challenges we are facing. Transparency is vital for parental trust to be built again after a disastrous start.

4. The DfE and government need to fulfil and expand upon their promise of technological provision for children, especially those from low income and disadvantaged households.

5. The DfE and government need to fund schools appropriately so that they can once again become safe.

6. The DfE and government need to be more creative in their approach to reopening schools during the Sars-Cov-2 pandemic. Their blanket, one size fits all approach is outdated and inefficient. They are breaching our children’s statutory rights and failing in their legal duty to ensure that all children have safe, appropriate educational provision that is suitable to our children’s age, aptitude and abilities, throughout this pandemic. Creative solutions that require funding LA authority run schools appear to be an afterthought, as does our families health, safety and wellbeing.

7. Class sizes must be reduced and funding increased to schools.

8. The government needs to be clear and transparent about its thresholds and policy for viral management within educational settings as in failing to do so, and in failing to inform parents of cases and outbreaks within educational institutions, they are blocking parents from fulfilling their legal responsibilities to their children.

9. The DfE and PHE need to revise their school guidance and consider the needs of non-typical children in their plans. Children with EHCPs have already had their hard won provision ripped away for them for several months officially, now many face that unofficially with some schools simply telling parents, “we don’t have the staff, so your child cannot have their normal provision” or “sorry your child cannot attend as we cannot accommodate them”.

10. The DfE needs to urgently address staff shortages by making educational settings safer. They can do this through provision of an efficient test, trace, isolate and support system run through our local public health bodies, rather than private companies, considering the health and wellbeing of all educational staff as well as our children. They need to ensure that their funding actually reaches the local authorities and is seen on the ground, otherwise it is ineffective and unfelt.

Parents fear it is too late for many of the creative solutions that were discussed but not implemented, with 3000+ institutions affected and growing at a average rate of 36 cases and outbreaks in educational settings every day, we worry that our schools won’t make it to Christmas under the current DfE/PHE regime.

We fear that this is just the beginning of an avalanche of school staff deaths and debilitating illnesses that are long lived. The damage being done is permanent and far reaching and it is imperative that the DFE and PHE take action now to prevent educational settings becoming the care homes of the second wave.

And this is just for starters…

*https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-covid-19-surveillance-reports

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