Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner.

Heads condemn ‘confusing’ guidance for schools on living with Covid

Headteachers have criticised ‘confusing’ new Government guidance issued to schools in England on how they should approach ‘living with Covid’ from April 1 (Danny Lawson/PA)
Headteachers have criticised ‘confusing’ new Government guidance issued to schools in England on how they should approach ‘living with Covid’ from April 1 (Danny Lawson/PA)

Headteachers have criticised “confusing” new Government guidance issued to schools in England on how they should approach “living with Covid” from April 1.

Advice published by the Department for Education on Thursday confirmed that routine testing will no longer be expected, with an end to free lateral flow tests.

The guidance says that those who test positive for coronavirus should stay at home and avoid contact with others for five days, adding “for children and young people aged 18 and under, the advice will be three days”.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said this advice is “confusing” and that abandoning free testing in the run-up to exams “makes absolutely no sense at all”.

“It is frustrating and disappointing that the Department for Education has only now communicated its ‘Living with Covid’ plans to schools and colleges 24 hours before this significant change takes place,” he said.

“The advice itself confirms the scrapping of free Covid tests for almost all education settings, thus dispensing with one of the few remaining mitigations against transmission of the virus.

“This comes at a time when there are very high levels of staff and pupil absence in many schools and colleges caused by Covid.

“Abandoning free testing in this context, and with public exams looming, makes absolutely no sense at all.”

He added: “The guidance then goes on to advise that children who test positive after 1 April should isolate for three days. Not only is this confusing because free testing will have been withdrawn, but there is no explanation about the basis for this change to the isolation period.”

Mr Barton said the most likely outcome of the changes will be higher rates of transmission in schools and more disruption for pupils, including those taking exams.

“It’s a shambles,” he added.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said many headteachers will be “very worried” about the decision to relax measures further at a time when Covid cases are “rising rapidly” in schools.

“The Government’s own figures show that absences due to Covid are back up to the levels we last saw in January and many schools are once again struggling to keep classes open,” he said.

The latest Government data shows that, in total, 201,600 pupils were off school in England on March 17 for Covid-related reasons, up from 58,000 on March 3.

An estimated 9.1% of teachers and school leaders were absent on March 17, up from 5.8% on March 3.

Mr Whiteman said that removing access to free testing seems to be “nothing short of reckless” given the current situation, as testing was “one of the few tools schools have left” to reduce transmission rates.

“School leaders, staff and families will quite rightly want to understand the scientific evidence that justifies further reducing the isolation period for those that test positive for Covid,” he said.

“The immediate concern is that, by letting people who could still be contagious return to school too early, we could see an increase in cases and therefore more, rather than less, disruption.

“If the medical advice has changed, then Government has a duty to explain that to schools.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “It is thanks to the hard work of teachers and staff that 99.9% of schools have been consistently open this term.

“Due to high immunity in society, a greater understanding of the virus and improved access to treatments, we can now move forward as we learn to live with the virus. That’s why, in line with wider society, testing of any kind will no longer be expected in education and childcare settings from 1 April.

“It remains important that we continue to maintain good ventilation and hygiene and continue to use vaccines to build the population’s wall of protection.”