The Committee for Education, Sport & Culture continues to resist requests from one of the island’s largest teachers’ unions for face coverings to be made mandatory in classrooms.
Late on Friday, the NASUWT union published an open letter to the President of the Committee, Deputy Andrea Dudley-Owen, claiming that the safety and welfare of children and staff were at risk unless more was done to stop the spread of covid in schools.
"Mandatory face coverings in all areas of schools" was among three specific requests made by the union. Deputy Dudley-Owen said the union's letter was "deliberately inflammatory", made claims which were "fundamentally inaccurate" and revealed a "lack of understanding of our local situation".
Pictured: Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the NASUWT union, wrote to Deputy Andrea Dudley-Owen setting out his members' concerns about inadequate safety measures in schools.
The Committee is strengthening directions on face coverings for students and staff in communal areas of secondary schools and further education and for staff in communal areas of primary schools, but said that masks in classrooms would be a step too far.
“At this stage, we do not think it would be proportionate for students to be forced to wear face coverings all day,” said Nick Hynes, Director of Education.
“There are other mitigations in place in classrooms which we believe act as a way of making sure students and staff can be as safe as possible.
“They’re well ventilated with windows open. We have carbon dioxide monitors in place to help ensure there are appropriate levels of ventilation. Students and staff are regularly washing their hands and using hand sanitiser. And students are being spaced out as much as possible.
“This is all about proportionate mitigations which disrupt learning as little as possible.”
Pictured: Nick Hynes, recently appointed as Director of Education, attended his first covid-19 briefing last night and explained why masks were not being made mandatory in classrooms.
Mr Hynes also dismissed rumours that States’ schools may break up for Christmas sooner than currently scheduled – 22 December.
“At this stage, there are no plans for schools to finish early for Christmas. We’re focused at the moment on risk mitigation and minimising disruption to our young people’s education,” he said.
On Saturday, in reply to the NASUWT's open letter, Deputy Dudley-Owen said that students' attendance at school so far this term was nearly 92%. At last night's covid-19 briefing, Mr Hynes acknowledged that the picture had changed considerably in the past couple of weeks.
"As of today, our attendance in primary schools was 80.6% and our attendance in secondary schools was 76%," said Mr Hynes. "It’s fair to say that in the past couple of weeks in particular our attendance rates have dropped."
Mr Hynes compared those figures with "typical rates of attendance at this period of time pre-covid, which seems like a long time ago now...primary schools were nearly 97% and our secondary schools were almost 95%."
Mr Hynes encouraged any parent who is anxious about their child's safety at school to speak to the school's head teacher.
“We wouldn’t necessarily support parents taking their children out of school at the moment," he said.
"We believe the mitigations we are putting in place are to keep all of our students and staff safe. If parents have particularly high levels of anxiety, I would encourage them to go and speak to their headteacher and talk about what is in place within the school. Hopefully, the headteacher will be able to give them some confidence that mitigations are in place to keep their young person safe and give them some confidence to keep them in school.”
Pictured: Deputy Peter Ferbrache, the Chairman of the Civil Contingencies Authority, joined the Director of Education in thanking staff in schools for their efforts in the challenging circumstances caused by the recent increase in covid-19 cases locally.
Thanking staff in schools for their work at the present time, Deputy Peter Ferbrache, Chairman of the Civil Contingencies Authority, said that "teachers and teaching assistants have really stepped up to the mark".
Mr Hynes said: "I do want to take the opportunity to say that our school leaders and all of our staff in schools are working so hard at a time when we know staffing is stretched.
"Our focus is keeping schools going and making sure that those young people and their families can rely on schools to provide support and quality education that we know all our schools can provide. That’s all staff. Whether they’re directly in front of children or not. Whether they’re the people taking young people to school or in school offices or anywhere else in schools.
“It is a challenging time as we focus on the priority of keeping education settings operational with as little disruption as possible to young people’s education. Staff in schools are stretched at the moment and I’d like to thank all of them and school leaders for doing all they can to manage these challenges.
"As a knock-on effect we’re also seeing an increased demand for supply teachers and supply learning support assistants. I’d like to take this opportunity to say that if there are any qualified teachers or learning support assistants in our community who would be interested in carrying out additional supply work please contact the Education Office."
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