Masks return to England secondary school classrooms in bid to curb Omicron spread

Secondary school students in England are again encouraged to wear masks in classrooms to limit the threat to children’s education posed by the Omicron variant.

The government said the move will “maximize the number of children in school” for “maximum time” given the recent surge in the highly communicable virus strain.

It stressed that the recommendation is limited in time to both schools and colleges and will remain in effect until January 26, when Plan B regulations are due to expire. At this point it is checked.

Another 7,000 air purification units will also be made available to schools, universities and kindergartens to improve ventilation in classrooms, the Ministry of Education said.

Secondary schools have already been told that they will be given a break from Ofsted in the first week of the semester as they conduct tests on site.

However, the government made it clear on Sunday that the watchdog will also encourage schools, colleges and kindergartens, which are “severely affected by the absence of staff related to Covid”, to request a postponement of their inspection.

And inspectors who are also school, college or youth leaders are not initially asked to perform their Ofsted duties. The provisional measure will apply from the beginning of January.

School principals welcomed the reintroduction of masks in classrooms, saying schools and colleges would take this “okay”. Face covering is recommended in the common areas for older students and employees.

The news comes when six unions representing education workers across the country called on the government to provide schools and colleges with better financial support for the cost of care workers to cover Covid-related absences.

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said, “While there are obvious drawbacks to using face coverings in classrooms, it is clear that the Omicron variant presents a very significant additional risk to education with the potential for more widespread disruption to schools, colleges and young people.

“It is imperative that everything is done to reduce transmission and ensure that the children stay in school, so we support the reintroduction of face coverings in classrooms for students from 7th grade upwards.

“Face coverings are recommended for students from 7th grade onwards in common areas. Students are used to their use and we are sure that the reintroduction of face coverings in classrooms is something that schools and colleges will easily cope with. “

Mr Barton said his union had been calling for additional air cleaning units “for a while” adding that they should have come “earlier” – but the move was “better late than never”.

“We are waiting for more details on the eligibility criteria for these devices and we urge the government to ensure that this program is as accessible as possible,” he said.

He cautioned, however, that a workforce disruption caused by the Omicron variant could result in some classes and cohorts being forced to study from home.

“All of this is a recognition from the government that the spring semester will be extremely challenging for schools and colleges,” he said.

“The biggest problem they face is the likelihood of high staff absenteeism caused by the proliferation of the Omicron variant.

“While schools and colleges will do their best to minimize the impact on students as always, there is a chance that some classes and years may have to be sent home for a short period of time to study remotely. ”

The government said the 7,000 new air purifiers would be for areas where “quick fixes to improve ventilation are not possible” – for example, where windows cannot be opened.

But Dr. Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEW apprenticeship union, said this is not going far enough.

“Seven thousand more air purifiers is something, but it is completely insufficient for what should be a basic human right, providing clean air in every classroom and in every educational institution,” she said.

“The fact that the government provided the extra cleaners shows that it recognizes the problem but has not found an effective solution with over 300,000 classrooms in England.”

Dr. Bousted also urged Ofsted to suspend all inspections except those sparked by maintaining fears.

“It is hard to imagine how Ofsted will function without the services of the headmasters,” she said.

“Instead of hobbling, Ofsted should suspend all inspections except to raise concerns.

“Given the sky-high infection rates at the moment, every school will be severely affected by Covid. The main goal should be to offer continuity in education to as many students as possible, and not jumping through Ofsted tires. “

Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi said, “Being in the classroom is undoubtedly the best place for children and I look forward to welcoming students again next week to continue their personal learning that is so important to their education and wellbeing.

“There is no doubt that the Omicron variant presents challenges, but the entire education sector has responded with a Herculean effort, and for that I thank each and every one of you.

“The Prime Minister and I have made it clear that education is our top priority. These measures will strengthen our support for schools as we do everything in our power to minimize disruption. “

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