Govt launches campaign to urge secondary school students to get jabbed and tested for Covid

26 August 2021, 00:01

Pop-up clinics, including this one at Heaven nightclub in London, are being used to make it easier for 16 and 17 year olds to get jabbed
Pop-up clinics, including this one at Heaven nightclub in London, are being used to make it easier for 16 and 17 year olds to get jabbed ahead of school starting. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Returning secondary school pupils are being urged to get vaccinated and tested to stop the virus spreading and minimise disruption to lessons over the autumn term.

The campaign comes as an expert advising the Government warned that music festivals and schools returning will lead to a "significant surge" in Covid-19 infections, and urges students to get vaccinated as well as take part in voluntary asymptomatic Covid testing.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: "I have every confidence that school and college staff, parents and students will continue to work together admirably, following pragmatic measures like testing and vaccinations to minimise disruption and keep children where they belong - in the classroom."

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid added: "I urge parents to encourage their children to take regular tests, to help break chains of transmission and stop the virus spreading."

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The campaign has been endorsed by 18-year-old swimmer Matthew Richards, who won a gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and NHS consultant paediatrician and TV presenter Dr Ranj Singh.

Mr Richards told students: "Make sure you test before you go back, and twice weekly - even if you don't have symptoms - so you can get back to the things you love like competitive sports and school matches."

Parents are also being encouraged to take part in the twice-weekly testing.

Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said: "Around one in three people who have coronavirus have no symptoms, so it is vital that we continue rapid testing in schools to help uncover hidden cases of the virus at the start of term."

Pupils began returning to school in Leicestershire this week, with most pupils in England set to head back to class over the next fortnight.

Schools received guidance in July setting out the measures they should implement from September, including maintaining increased hygiene and ventilation, but year group "bubbles" and face coverings have been removed.

Children no longer have to isolate if they come into contact with a positive case.

Instead, they will need to get a PCR test and isolate only if positive.

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Department for Education (DfE) guidance states that secondary school and college pupils in England should be tested twice on-site on their return, with lateral flow tests carried out between three and five days apart.

Pupils should then continue to test twice weekly at home until the end of September, when the policy will be reviewed.

The DfE is also reissuing its 'remote education direction', which requires schools to offer immediate access to high-quality online learning where students need to self-isolate.

But education union leaders are concerned that less strict safety measures this term may lead to higher cases and even more disruption to lessons.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: "Government guidance is very different from the last academic year and the control measures are less stringent.

"Our concerns are over the potential risk of a high number of infections among pupils which cause more educational disruption and may lead to some young people suffering serious symptoms."

He added: "It will be very important that the Government is ready to act in the event of a rising tide of coronavirus infections and provide further support to schools and colleges as necessary."

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Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: "This charm offensive from Government to parents relies on the notion that the removal of safety requirements will magically transform school and college life.

"However, its admission last week that CO2 monitors will be needed should be sufficient evidence that Gavin Williamson made a bad call when removing so many mitigations last term - and, once again, squandered the summer break."

He added: "Leaders will want to consider continuing with face coverings in secondary schools, social distancing where possible, and special arrangements for vulnerable staff."