The latest guidance gives schools the power to keep pupils with possible Covid-19 symptoms home.
The Covid-19 rules were changed on the 24th of February 2022, removing the legal requirement to self-isolate after a positive test in England, which Boris Johnson has referred to as a shift from ‘government restrictions’ to ‘personal responsibility’. This was met with mixed opinions, with many people concerned that it was 'too soon' to remove self-isolation rules.
As a result of the self-isolation rule change, the school leaders' union NAHT called for new guidance for schools.
In response, the government has now updated the guidance, stating that schools will retain the power to make pupils stay at home with Covid-19 or symptoms that may possibly be Covid-19.
With free home test kits ending on the 1st of April, there has been uproar with parents, unions and organisations demanding that free tests are still available for pupils and teachers in order to ensure that outbreaks can be controlled.
The new guidance for schools...
‘If you insist on your child attending nursery, school or college when they have symptoms, they can take the decision to refuse your child if, in their reasonable judgement, it is necessary to protect other pupils and staff from possible infection with COVID 19.’
What isn't clear here is whether this guidance applies to children who have mild cold symptoms that are similar to the Omicron strain but are actually testing negative on a lateral flow test and/or PCR test - once we know more, we will update this article.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders' union the NAHT, said:
'Overall, schools and families have worked closely together to keep everyone safe and protected. The updated guidance from government is clear that school leaders do have the right to refuse to allow a child to attend school if they have COVID symptoms, if necessary. We would hope that most schools do not need to resort to taking such steps, but it is helpful to have clarity on this, in case it is needed.'
Are Covid-19 outbreaks still happening in schools?
Whilst the data looks very promising in the wake of the self-isolation restrictions ending, outbreaks are still occuring in schools with some having to partially close to quell outbreaks. In Scotland, the requirement for secondary pupils and teachers to wear face masks in classrooms in the wake of Nicola Sturgeon (Scottish First Minister) annoucing the easement of various Covid-19 restrictions.
This is understandable - schools have been under tremendous pressure with the Covid-19 pandemic. However, it would be good to have some solid guidance on what schools can allow in terms of children who have symptoms that are similar the Omicron strain, but who are still testing as negative - where do we draw a line? The new guidance mentions that school should 'use judgement' but this is ambiguous. Children get coughs and colds, and working parents will struggle if they still need to provide a negative test result for their childcare setting especially with free tests ending on the 1st of April.
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