The education secretary and health secretary have written to parents of secondary school and college students, urging them to ensure their children are testing regularly and also encouraging them to get vaccinated against coronavirus.
The letter from Nadhim Zahawi and Sajid Javid comes after official estimates showed that around 270,000 secondary pupils had COVID-19 in the week to 2 October.
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This has led some education unions to call for the reintroduction of extra safety measures in schools.
“We know that students have missed a lot of time in school and college since the pandemic started, and that there is no substitute for face-to-face learning,” the ministers say in their letter.
“Keeping students in the classroom in the coming months is therefore a Government priority, both for their immediate and longer-term wellbeing.
“We know that some of you will be concerned about the health risks to the young people you care for.
“We want to reassure you that the evidence shows that young people remain at very low risk of serious illness from COVID-19.
“However, we need to continue to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“Young people who get ill will need to miss school or college, and may spread it to others. That is why we are encouraging you all to support your children to get vaccinated and to continue to test regularly.
“This will help to detect cases early, reduce spread, and keep students in education.”
The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that around one in 15 children in school years 7 to 11 in England are estimated to have had COVID-19 in the week to 2 October.
This was the highest positivity rate for any age group and up from one in 20 during the previous seven-day period.
Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at the Open University, said that with around four million children in the 11 to 16 age group in England, one in 15 equates to around 270,000 testing positive.
Five education unions last week wrote to the education secretary, calling on him to look at bringing back stricter safety measures for schools.
The GMB union, Unite, Unison, National Education Union (NEU) and NASUWT teaching union said they are also writing to local authorities and directors of public health.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “We are concerned that the government is standing by while COVID cases surge across schools.
“It is evident that more needs to be done, and sooner rather than later, to prevent further massive disruption to children’s education, caused either by children contracting COVID-19 or COVID-related staff absence.”
Jim Kennedy, Unite national officer for education, called on Mr Zahawi to “reset the safety agenda for schools”.
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He argued that with winter approaching, “the whole range of measures to keep school children safe needs to be deployed – the rising level of infections in schools demand it”.
The NASUWT said schools need more support with on-site testing, “rather than relying on home testing, which is less effective”, and called on the government to consider reinstating the requirement for pupils who are contacts of a positive case to self-isolate.
Avril Chambers, GMB national officer, said the latest figures show “it is clear further mitigation measures are needed immediately” in order to avoid further disruption to schooling.