A third of children won’t have a coronavirus test when they return to school – partly because many parents have still not signed consent forms, it was claimed today.

Headteachers in England have raised major concerns about the spread of Covid-19 among students and also fear younger children may be too scared to be tested.

There are also worries over the impact of transmission on unvaccinated teachers, with one school revealing just two out of its 180 staff had received the jab so far.

In addition, warnings have been raised over social distancing not being possible in classrooms or travelling to and from school, even if children are wearing face masks.

It comes as Britain’s biggest teaching union was urged to show its ‘collective strength’ by threatening to strike over schools reopening next Monday.  

Children arrive at Outwood Academy Adwick in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, last September 

Jo Tunnicliffe, headteacher at North Kesteven Academy in Lincolnshire, said a testing scheme had been set up to help get students ‘into school as quickly as possible’.

She said the process had been ‘tricky’ to set up ‘in a meaningful way’, but added: ‘I think most people have got their heads round that now, and that’s all now set up.’

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether it would work, Ms Tunnicliffe said: ‘There are some families who haven’t given consent for those tests carried out.

‘So we just don’t know at the moment in terms of how that will pan out and what transmission will look like both in school and the community.

Jo Tunnicliffe, headteacher at North Kesteven Academy in Lincolnshire, said ‘about a quarter or a third of students will probably not have the test, or some of them haven’t had a test at all’

Signs outside Bonner Primary School in Tower Hamlets, East London, pictured in January

‘My estimation is about a quarter or a third of students will probably not have the test, or some of them haven’t had a test at all at the moment – they don’t really know what that looks like.

Kevin Sexton, headteacher at Chesterfield High School in Merseyside, said there was about a 75 per cent take up in having tests

‘So when they come into school it’s going to take a little while, I think, to get them reassured to have the test – those that are consenting. 

‘Of course that’s up to us to try and help them to feel calm enough to have those tests, because, let’s be honest, they’re not particularly pleasant and they’re not particularly easy to administer.

‘So it’s not so bad with the older ones, but the younger ones I feel might… they might just get on with it, I don’t know, we haven’t started yet, but I do think that there might be some reluctance among them to do what they’re being asked to do.’

She added: ‘Social distancing won’t be a thing in schools. We have full classrooms. If everybody’s back, we have got potentially 30 student in a classroom. 

‘That isn’t possible to socially distance. We will be introducing the face coverings as per the guidance.

Will schools reopen in  South Gloucestershire after the Brazil variant was identified there?

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said surge testing in South Gloucestershire was a ‘precautionary measure’, when asked if schools in the area might not reopen next week due to the Brazil variant being identified there.

He told BBC Breakfast: ‘It’s really a precautionary measure because the particular family in question actually followed the rules very, very closely. But it’s an important precautionary measure.

‘Schools have had 50 million lateral flow tests delivered, they have already done about three million tests, even before we set out the road map to reopening by March 8.

‘Teachers will be tested twice a week, even in secondary schools and colleges will be tested twice a week. There’s a big infrastructure of testing going into schools.’

‘But we know from previously that it’s difficult for the students once they’re in their normal environment in a fairly normal way now, that keeping them away from each other on the way to school, on the way home from school and in school itself is quite tricky, because they’re children as they behave as children will behaved.’

Asked how many of her teachers had been vaccinated, she said: ‘At the moment we haven’t got very many staff vaccinated.’

Kevin Sexton, headteacher at Chesterfield High School in Merseyside, told BBC Radio 4: ‘We think at the moment we’ve probably got a 70, 75 per cent take up. 

‘We have a number of parents who are going to go to local centres for the first test just to be more accessible for them.

‘But we have a concern that we need to get a much greater turnout to make sure it’s effective and particularly understand what the transmission rates might be.’

Asked about whether sending tests back with the children to take at home is feasible: ‘We haven’t had much information about that yet, and that worries me, because that needs to be rolled out in the next ten days.

‘I do worry how consistent that will be across our whole school community, so I’m interested to hear the detail because there’s no information about how those tests recorded are connected to our own tracking systems.’

Asked how many staff had been vaccinated, he said: ‘Two out of 180.’

MailOnline has contacted the Department for Education and the National Education Union for comment on whether the data given by the two headteachers is reflected nationally.  

EU nations including Germany are being far outpaced by Britain in the Covid-19 vaccine race

The vaccine programme is having an impact on the number of people going into hospital

It comes as Martin Powell-Davies, who is running for deputy general secretary of the NEU, has branded Boris Johnson’s back-to-school plan ‘completely reckless’.

Poorer college students are ‘three A-level grades behind’ affluent peers, report claims

Disadvantaged sixth form and college students are around three A-level grades behind their more affluent peers, a report suggests.

The attainment gap is largely explained by poorer students already having lower grades at the end of their GCSEs, according to an exploratory analysis by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) think tank.

Disadvantaged students fall even further behind through sixth form and college, leaving them around half an A-level grade behind better-off peers with the same GCSE results, the report suggests.

The EPI research, which is based on a new provisional methodology, explores the “disadvantage gap” for older students enrolling in sixth form or college.

It looks at students’ free school meal status during their last six years of school and it assesses their attainment based on the qualifications and grades achieved between the end of secondary school and by the age of 19. 

The hardline activist is instead demanding a gradual reopening of schools – and only when case rates drop dramatically.

He is calling on the NEU, which has more than 450,000 members, to back his calls for industrial action if these conditions are not met. 

Mr Powell-Davies said it was ‘completely crazy’ to think the return of schools was safe when infection rates were still over 150 per 100,000 in parts of northern England.

But Tory MP Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons education committee, said: ‘I say to this individual: Less of the class warfare.

‘The first thought in mind should be about the kids, whose life chances have been damaged, both in terms of mental health, learning, and safeguarding by being away from school for so long.

‘I call on [the joint general secretaries] to immediately disassociate themselves from any call to strikes.’

The Government’s Sage advisory committee has warned opening schools all at once could push the R rate, which tracks how quickly the virus spreads, above 1.

But chief medical officer Chris Whitty has said there are huge advantages for children to be in school ‘from a health point of view, mental and physical, as well as from educational and a life-course point of view’. 

The NEU’s joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said the executive had agreed to continue making the case that the Government should have followed Sage’s advice of a phased return.

The NEU said Mr Powell-Davies was not a member of the executive and it would not comment on the stances of candidates.

Meanwhile Prince Charles has praised teachers for their ‘dogged determination’ over the last year. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks with Year 7 students during a visit to Accrington Academy in Lancashire last Thursday as they prepare for the return of all pupils on March 8

Steve Chalke, the head of the Oasis Academies Trust, suggested the following four measures last month to help schools get back safely on March 8 

At a virtual leadership conference he said he was ‘enormously impressed’ with the efforts of school leaders and staff to overcome the ‘mountain of logistical challenges’.

There is NO evidence schools drive the spread of coronavirus in local communities, SAGE advisers find 

There is no evidence having schools open drives the spread of coronavirus in the wider community in the UK, SAGE advisers found a fortnight ago.

In a study of pupil and teacher absences caused by positive Covid tests, researchers said confirmed infections in schools did not lead to bigger outbreaks. Instead, they said there were small signs that the opposite was true, and that schools tended to get worse hit when the cases around them had rocketed. 

Dr Mike Tildesley and Dr Ed Hill, members of SAGE sub-group SPI-M and Warwick University experts who did the study, said the reopening should be cautious and that it was important to ‘mitigate’ the inevitable risks of doing it.

The team admitted their paper was ‘an absence of evidence rather than evidence of absence’ of risk. And they conceded it probably underestimated how many Covid cases there actually are in schools because many people don’t get tested.

The Warwick study found Covid cases among teachers fell during the November lockdown, even though schools remained open.

And in December, cases in schools appeared to rise in tandem with outbreaks in the community, with bigger outbreaks in London and the South East, where the new variant was surging, and fewer cases in more rural regions. 

Also today, the chief strategist at London ‘s Canary Wharf said thousands of workers are expected to return to offices as restrictions are eased in the coming months.

Howard Dawber, Canary Wharf Group’s head of strategy, said they are expecting numbers to increase from March 29 and that this will increase when services such as bars, restaurants and hairdressers open from June.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4, Mr Dawber said the group expects to be back to 100 per cent occupancy over time with the return of its 120,000 office workers.

He said: ‘We’ve got about five or six thousand staff working on the wharf at the moment.

‘We expect over the next few months a gradual increase there – obviously the government’s advice is still to work from home and I think everyone is sticking to that.

‘But from March 29 onwards I think we will see people starting to return to the workplace and particularly as we get towards June when things like bars, restaurants, services, hairdressers open up I think we will start to see people back in offices and we are expecting significant numbers back over the summer.’ 

The Government did not set a date for when workers should return to the office when it revealed its roadmap out of lockdown last week.

It means the ‘work from home if you can’ message will continue to guide employers for the foreseeable future.

Many large firms have already told staff they should work remotely, with some even delaying a return to the office until at least the end of the year.

However, some studies claim that productivity is hampered as workers log in from their kitchen table rather than at their desk.

The work from home initiative has also seen footfall in the country’s town and city centres drop dramatically.

The High Street has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic as people were told to stay inside for several national lockdowns.

High Street stalwarts such as WH Smith and Clarks did not escape the bloodbath.



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