'No benefit' to keeping Lancashire's schools closed for Covid circuit breaker after half term

Lancashire’s public health boss says that a union proposal for the county’s schools to remain closed for a week of home-learning after the current half term break would “not make much difference” to the spread of Covid in the county.

As the Local Democracy Reporting Service revealed earlier this week, Lancashire’s representative on the National Education Union’s (NEU) executive committee said that creating what would effectively be a two-week 'circuit breaker' for schools had to be “worth considering” in the face of rising infection rates.

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Ian Watkinson called for the move - which would have excluded key worker and vulnerable children - in an attempt to avoid having to “firefight” outbreaks and avert the disruption caused by multiple ‘bubbles’ of children having to be sent home to self-isolate over concern about contact with Covid cases. He said that schools could deliver more effective remote learning if they were doing so en masse.

A leading teaching union official had wanted schools in Lancashire to stay shut for a week after half term

However, the county’s top public health official, Dr. Sakthi Karunanithi, says that the step would not have the desired effect.

“One week is not going to make much difference to start with [and also] given that infections are rising anyway across the whole of the community and we don’t quite know who children are mixing with in the community.

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“If there is a need to focus on school closures, we will do that on a school-by-school basis – but a blanket approach of extending the half term would probably have more of a negative impact on education than a positive impact on transmission.

“What we really need to do is focus on ventilation in schools and regular testing.

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“[Given] the fact we are seeing education settings having a lot of outbreaks, we are calling for better ventilation and investment in our [schools and colleges] so that children can continue to learn in a safe way.

“Ventilation is mainly [about] investing in buildings, which I would like to see,” said Dr. Karunanithi, who added that regular testing for asymptomatic students – currently recommended at twice-weekly intervals for secondary pupils – was also crucial.

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The average Covid case rate per 100,000 people across the Lancashire County Council area – which excludes Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen – stood at 108 on a rolling seven-day measure as at 30th May, more than three times higher than the England average of 33.8.