Tory insistence that ‘schools are safe’ was already discredited, but now it’s blown apart by DfE’s own data
The Department for Education (DfE) has finally released data on the impact of coronavirus on the school workforce in its report “Attendance in education and early years settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak”.
The dataset includes the number of teachers and school leaders, teaching assistants and other staff absent with a confirmed case of coronavirus – and it reveals what commonsense and science dictated, but the government has persistently denied, instead claiming ‘schools are safe’.
The National Education Union (NEU) has used the government’s data to calculate the estimated rate of coronavirus infection amongst school staff – and the data show that there are much higher rates of COVID infection amongst teachers and other school staff than for the general population.
The finding is in direct contradiction to the reassurances regularly given by the Department and by Public Health England, including by Dr Jenny Harries giving evidence to the Education Select Committee yesterday morning. Harries told the committee that even for the new, supposedly much more transmissible variant, there was no ‘significant evidence’ to suggest that schools are drivers of the pandemic:
But the DfE’s own data reveal a different story. On average the rate of COVID infection is 1.9 times higher amongst primary and secondary teachers than the general population – and 2 times higher for special school teachers.
And for teaching assistants and other staff, the rate of COVID infection is three times higher in primary schools and almost seven times higher in special schools.
The Government has been collecting this information since early October, so if the new variant is more transmissible, the situation will get worse. During most of this period, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has denied that school pupils were likely to transmit the virus to teachers or to their own families.
Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said that the data raised ‘further very serious questions’ about the Tory government’s decisions on schools during the pandemic:
These shocking figures raise further very serious questions about the handling of coronavirus in schools. What investigations have the Department for Education made into these figures?
Why have the ministers repeatedly told school staff and the public that there was no reason for concern when these figures indicate that there should have been real concern about the much higher COVID infection rates of teachers and other school staff?
Why did ministers deny clinically extremely vulnerable staff the right to work from home?
Why has it taken ministers so long to release this data? What mitigating measures will ministers now propose?
The Office for National Statistics has not updated its death statistics for school staff since June last year, at which point 148 teachers had died, but hundreds of education staff are now believed to have died of the virus.
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