Thank you for contacting me about coronavirus safety measures in schools and colleges this year.
I appreciate your concerns about the safety of reopening education settings. However, I strongly believe that, based on a growing body of evidence, that on balance children and young people face a far greater risk by not returning to school or college than from the coronavirus.
A system of controls has been implemented in schools and colleges to create an inherently safer environment for children and staff where the risk of transmission of infection is substantially reduced. These measures include:
- a requirement that people who are ill stay at home
- robust hand and respiratory hygiene
- enhanced cleaning arrangements
- active engagement with NHS Test and Trace
- reducing contacts and maximising distancing between those in school wherever possible.
Education settings also have the flexibility to require the use of face masks in indoor communal areas where social distancing cannot be safely managed.
Further, I hope it will be reassuring for you to know that teaching staff have been included on the list of groups prioritised for access to coronavirus testing.
The prospect that closures of education settings may be needed again has been carefully considered, and a framework has been put in place setting out tiers of intervention for schools and colleges when managing local outbreaks and implementing restrictions. The overriding principle is that education should remain open except as a last resort. However, it is acknowledged that remote learning may become necessary again. As such schools have been required to prepare high quality remote education, so that children can continue to make progress even if they are not attending in person.
Regarding the R rate, throughout this crisis Ministers have kept the situation under close review, not hesitating to make changes when necessary. I am confident that Ministers will not hesitate to act should a further response prove necessary.