How safe are schools?

The trouble with schools in Wales is that they’re not allowing Years 9, 10 & 11 back after Half-term.

I’m sorry, sorry, sorry! Yet again I’m distracted by the virus and all it represents.  I’ve been a huge supporter of the direction education was taking in Wales for a number of years now and have really enjoyed working in the country.  To be honest, it was a breath of fresh air when I began working in Wales 6 years ago.   Now I’m beginning to despair that all the good work we’ve been doing, is in danger of becoming undone. 

I don’t understand the why Years 9, 10 & 11 are not able to come back with Years 7 & 8 after the break.  My first thought was why not everyone out of school or everyone in?  Why some, but not others?  The obvious one people have said is that it would all schools would have been closed, but that schools need to be a baby-sitting service, to allow people to continue working.   I’m not going to dwell on this matter.

Initially, I heard it was to give staff the opportunity to have time to develop their blended learning resources, but that wasn’t thought through; teaching staff will be too busy delivering their online curriculum to these year groups during the week, to have any additional time to create resources.  

I also heard that having less pupils in school would lessen the opportunities for the virus to spread.   I genuinely want to know what evidence this is based on.   My experience so far suggests that pupils up to 16 (I can’t comment on older), don’t seem to be spreading the virus or if they are, it’s to others their age who are mostly asymptomatic. 

We’ve had 4 cases in my school and we now know that the pupils may have been contagious in school for at least 4 days before being sent home, or being tested positive.  We also know that the sources of infection were not in school.   In that time, they had been sitting in classes of up to 30 without masks.  We also don’t enforce masks in corridors because we are in large open building and have a strict one-way system in place, but this also didn’t add to any spread.

Not one case has led to others being infected in school and no adult in the school has contracted the virus so far.   It could be luck as the number we are talking about here is very low and until I’m proved correct in my assumptions, we will continue to treat the virus seriously in school.  I’ve also researched high and low (and asked many heads) for cases where pupils have passed the virus up to adults in school settings and can’t find any confirmed cases – anywhere.  For example, have a look at this article in the Independent.  It is still very unclear as to whether or not children pass the virus upwards.  

When it comes to young people under 16 spreading the virus, there seems to be two possibilities:

  • They don’t spread it as readily as adults do and not upwards to adults
  • They spread it readily to their peers, but because most children are asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms, it goes unnoticed

In either scenario, schools would appear to be safe places.  The risk of infection in schools comes from staff, either infecting each other or infecting children.   If all staff have to be in school, why cant we therefore have all of the children in too?  A week out of school doesn’t seem much, but when you add it to the constant disruptions due to all of the potential isolation periods they may have to go through this winter, it will soon build up.

This move to keep Years 9, 10 & 11 out of school, tips the balance in favour of safety over future livelihood for these pupils (actually I think this happened a good few months ago).  If the balance is to be tipped in favour of safety – PLEASE GIVE ME EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT THIS MOVE because I certainly can’t find it.

If the first bullet above is true, then schools are safe.  In the case of the second bullet above: I would suggest that a number of schools are selected at random across the country and we test every pupil in the school.   Putting aside the strong possibility that there will be false positives, it may show that there are many pupils in every school with the virus, but it goes unnoticed every day and is not affecting the wider community.   It would further support the argument that schools are safe places. 

Of course, there is a third scenario: I’m completely wrong with regards to the two bullets above and young people do spread the virus in the same way adults do.  Perhaps we haven’t been in schools long enough, to really measure the potential impact it could have on communities when it comes to spreading the virus.  Perhaps this is the reason the Government is taking this action?

It’s difficult for governments at the moment.  10 years ago 90 young people died in schools in this country with Swine Flu, and as tragic as that was, how many of you reading this knew that?  This virus is by far less dangerous to young people than Swine Flu was, but Governments now have to contend with Social Media and the knowledge that everyone is making judgements on their every move.  We’re all guilty of doing this.  This has likely caused the Governments in the UK (and across the world) to er on the side of caution during this pandemic.   

Devolution is also much higher on the agenda compared to 10 years ago and I don’t know if this is helping us at the moment.  All the UK Governments seem to be watching to see how each other will move, rather than working together.  It is also very party political; rather than looking closely at the data, focussing on those who are at risk, there seems to be a battle to see who can ‘protect’ people the most.

Why can’t we have put all the money that has been spent so far (£210billion so far in the UKs response to the virus) into trying to fill 80,000 vacancies in the NHS and resourcing it better, as well as focussing on those who truly are vulnerable? 

This may sound harsh, but at some point, I think as a nation we have to agree what our acceptable level of death should be in this country.  9,000 – 15,000 die in a week in the UK depending on the time of year.  In 2018 there were over 50,000 excess deaths due to flu and cold weather.   As a nation (perhaps globally), we are increasingly becoming far more safety, welfare and wellbeing conscious.  While this is not a bad thing, at some point we have to get the balance between lives and livelihood. 

There is a huge ethical debate to be had when it comes to Covid and we don’t seem to be having that.  It isn’t going to go away, but it’s likely to go the same way as flu.  If we decide that the levels of death are too high when it comes to flu and Covid combined, then we have to take actions and behave in a way which makes levels more acceptable.   This will always come down to getting the balance between livelihood and lives. 

I imagine humanity has always done this, albeit unconsciously, but now we have been forced into a situation where we have to make these decisions very publicly.  It’s not easy, for governments, but if they all worked together along with the political parties then perhaps we could finally make these difficult and uncomfortable decisions, before we really do, irreparably destroy livelihoods. 

I know this sounds naïve; I’m certainly no politician, but it has a direct bearing on the livelihoods of the young and all I want is Year 9, 10 and 11 to be in what I think are very safe schools.

2 thoughts on “How safe are schools?

  1. I have little to add but I truly benefited and learned from reading your email. Thank you. Even obvious plans do not seem to be taken into consideration. Many in the government hide behind that everything is new and we are learning. Yet there are too many ‘obvious’ actions that are not being taken forward, or even thought about. I also dislike the fact that the devolved systems are operating with an ego/individual approach at times.

    Liked by 2 people

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