What percentage of pupils have returned to schools in Suffolk, and how many students tested positive for Covid in the first week?
Suffolk education leaders have said the return of pupils to the classroom last week from the Covid-19 lockdown has been largely positive, after first week data indicated the majority were back in the classroom.
Chiefs said it was a “watershed moment” in the coronavirus saga, as end-of-week figures revealed 97 per cent of primary pupils were back while 92 per cent in secondary schools had returned.
Data collated by the Department for Education covered 80,000 of Suffolk’s 100,000 school-age population.
It reported that testing in schools, mostly secondary schools, had found 47 positive cases.
Those pupils are now self-isolating, while a further 50 pupils were isolating as a precaution after coming into contact with those pupils.
Adrian Orr, assistant director for education and teaching at Suffolk County Council, said: “It’s gone incredibly well.
“I think this is a watershed moment where we would test if there were families that had the reluctance and hesitancy that we saw back in September, with some pretty mixed figures for some schools.
“Generally, young people have returned, they are into lessons, secondary have been getting their testing regime, but I don’t think we could have asked for a better start to school.
“It’s a good three-week run to the Easter holidays but children are back in class, teachers are glad to be teaching them, and it is a nice sensible period to then have a bit of a break and that firebreak over Easter that nationally will be looking at the R number to see what the impact of the return has been.”
The council said that where before entire bubbles may have been required to isolate when a child tests positive, the size of those isolating bubbles are now smaller – because schools are able to quickly test pupils. Youngsters are also coming into contact with fewer peers.
At the county’s special schools, around 70 per cent of pupils have returned, but lower numbers were anticipated there.
The county education team has praised school staff for their part in the return – particularly when many hadn’t had a break.
Mary Evans, cabinet member for education, recognised that parents would be frustrated that children who had tested positive would need to remain at home for a little longer.
However, she said it was important for the safe return.
“It’s gone very well, we are incredibly grateful to all the work schools have done – they have gone above and beyond,” she said.
“The parents are really happy, and so are the children and young people.
“We are aware of where the testing has thrown up young people with positive tests, and they are isolating. This is how we break transmission.
“For those parents, they must feel, ‘oh no, here we go again’ – but we need to do that and we thank everybody who has followed that.
“Everybody recognises now these are the steps we have got to take to get out of lockdown.”
How long will school testing go on for?
With pupils having returned to the classroom from the third coronavirus lockdown last week, questions have now turned to the future of Covid-secure teaching and how long testing measures will be in place in schools.
When the government laid out its roadmap for the unlocking of the country from restrictions, the return of pupils from March 8 was confirmed as the first step.
That was on the basis that schools had Covid-secure measures such as facemasks, spaced out desks and hand sanitiser stations remaining in place.
Another element introduced was the twice-weekly testing of secondary pupils, while family members of both primary and secondary pupils are also being encouraged to get rapid-result tests twice a week.
However, the government roadmap did not outline how long that would be in place for, meaning families have been left uncertain as to how long this must continue.
The Department for Education has said that measures in school will be reviewed over the Easter holidays, as that will have allowed some time for measures to bed-in and see if the impact of the return to school on Covid-19 rates is a little clearer.
However, a spokeswoman from the DfE said that while measures will be reviewed at Easter, that doesn’t necessarily mean school testing will cease after the spring break – even if case numbers are low.
What it means is that analysis will help inform school testing going forward.
Even then, it is not yet clear if that means a timeline for when school testing can cease will be issued or whether it will just continue until another future review.
Pressure will likely mount over the coming weeks for the government to give more of a steer on how it intends to negotiate that.