Fears over Wigan schools after Freedom Day

Trade unionists have raised concern about Covid-19 levels in the borough’s schools ahead of the dropping of compulsory measures in England.

Wigan Trades Council says more should have been done to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus in education settings across the borough.

It spoke out as the Government prepares for virtually all legal restrictions related to Covid-19 to be dropped from Monday.

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The possible impact of schools returning to something like normal teaching in classrooms with cases at their current level has been questioned by some scientists and parents.

Fears Covid could rip through schools after Freedom Day

Wigan Council says schools in the borough are being advised to keep the current measures in place due to the high case rate of Covid-19 in the borough at the moment.

It also praised schools for the work they have done during the pandemic to keep cases as low as possible.

Wigan Trades Council said the data in the local authority’s weekly coronavirus tracker in recent weeks related to schools with confirmed cases was alarming.

The latest document showed there were positive cases among pupils or staff in 50 primary schools, 18 secondary schools, three colleges, eight nurseries and early years’ settings and two special schools between June 23 and June 29.

A Wigan Trades Council spokesperson said: “The situation in our schools is a reminder of the utter failure of a public policy unfit for purpose.

“Hundreds of thousands of pupils are now at home as basic safety measures like the wearing of masks, increased ventilation and more testing have not been implemented.

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“Countless numbers of staff have been similarly affected. In Wigan 78 schools have been affected with the number rising, with no details given by the council as to how many children are affected.

“In March Wigan Trades Council recommended the setting up of a task force with the involvement of our communities, including unions, to address the crisis in our schools resulting from the pandemic.

“We suggested, amongst other measures, the reduction of class sizes (and therefore the bubbles), the opening up of study hubs in empty buildings, the wearing of masks and recruitment of extra staff.

“All were ignored, not even acknowledged. The attitude of politicians that ‘we know best’ has been proven to be completely wrong with the current rate of infections among school children accelerating.

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“This rise was completely avoidable had basic initiatives been implemented.

“It is now clear that the government is pursuing a policy of herd immunity. Simply tail-ending government policy by local politicians makes them complicit in the results that follow.”

The National Education Union (NEU) has written to education secretary Gavin Williamson asking about how the ongoing impact of Covid in classrooms will be measured and analysed and for measures such as improved ventilation.

NEU Wigan joint secretaries Max Atkins and Karen Parkin said: “Throughout the pandemic all local school-based unions have been working closely with the council to keep Wigan education settings as safe as possible. We will continue to work together in the new academic year.”

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Wigan Council said it will continue to monitor the situation after July 19 and will recommend measures being brought in if needed.

Cath Pealing, assistant director for information, said: “Throughout the pandemic, the council has supported residents of all ages and has worked closely with schools to ensure children can continue to access their learning in line with government guidance.

“This advice has changed over time and we have ensured that school risk assessments are updated and consulted upon.

“We will continue to monitor the current position in the borough over the summer and into the autumn term following the relaxation of restrictions and where we feel additional measures are required, we will ensure we advise schools to implement those.

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“Whilst the current guidance advises schools can remove certain measures from July 19, following the advice of our director of public health and local chief medical officer, we encourage schools to continue with those measures until the end of term.

“Our Covid-19 tracker includes a list of affected schools and colleges each week and is a transparent way of communicating the local position with our communities.

“Our education leaders are working incredibly hard to balance keeping pupils and staff safe with being able to provide the best learning experience for the borough’s children and young people.

“Parents, families and students have been great in working with education settings and we want to thank them for their continued resilience and cooperation.”

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