Letter to Headteachers to Manage Covid-19 Transmission in Schools

Published

The following letter was yesterday (19 October) sent to all schools in the Royal Borough:

Covid-19 infection rates have been steadily rising in school aged children since the start of the academic year, and current rates are amongst the highest the borough has ever seen. As a result, we have an increasing number of schools meeting the Education Contingency Framework’s threshold for additional monitoring and support.

Although the immediate health risks of Covid-19 infection to children and young people and vaccinated school staff members are low, the potential harms from missing or disrupted education are significant.  As such the Government’s objective is to maximise time spent in face-to-face education. However, current rates and the number of outbreaks in our educational settings is impacting on attendance causing disruption to education and the roll out of the school-based Covid-19 vaccination programme in secondary schools.

In response, members of the East Berkshire Health Protection Board have reviewed the current guidance to ensure that we are doing everything possible, in partnership with schools and colleges, to reduce the risk of transmission within the borough’s educational settings. The Board comprises senior leaders from Bracknell Forest Council, the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead, and Slough Council, as well as senior representatives from the UK Health Security Agency (formerly Public Health England), the East Berkshire Clinical Commissioning Group and Frimley ICS.

Following an extraordinary meeting of the Board on 14 October, several additional measures were identified with the aim of reducing the risk of Covid-19 transmission within our schools and colleges. These recommendations are being sent to head teachers in all schools and colleges within Bracknell Forest and the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead.

In making these recommendations, we have considered three key principles:

1.    The recommendations must be proportionate to the current public health risk and disruption to education

2.    The recommendations focus on measures that will cause minimal disruption to the effective operation of schools and colleges

3.    The recommendations will be implemented for a defined period, with a regular review based on the data and will seek to sufficiently control transmission to avoid having to introduce even more restrictive measures in future

We strongly advise that head teachers implement these enhanced measures, over and above current government guidance, as soon as is practicable:

•    Use of face coverings in communal areas (unless exempt) for staff, children, and visitors in both primary and secondary schools
•    Reduce contact between and within year groups in school where possible. The extent to which this can be achieved will be different between primary and secondary schools, and between individual schools. The priority remains minimising disruption to education, however where possible we advise the following:

     o    Avoid mixing between groups (either class or year group)
     o    Separate break and lunch areas / times where possible
     o    No whole school (primary) or whole year group (secondary) assemblies

•    In both primary and secondary schools/colleges when i) a child or member of staff has a household member test positive for Covid-19 or ii) a child or member of staff is identified as a close contact of a positive case via NHS Test and Trace:

     o    The child or member of staff should be advised to take a daily LFD test for seven days, in addition to taking a one-off PCR test. Anyone who is exempt from self-isolation (those aged under 18 or adults who are fully vaccinated) and who tests negative can continue to attend school during this period of daily LFD testing

There is evidence from the daily contact testing trial, conducted in 201 schools between April and June this year, that daily testing of exposed students and staff for Covid-19 was equivalent to self-isolation of whole year groups. This measure is therefore indicated to be a safe alternative to home isolation following school-based exposure.

The enhanced measures recommended in this letter should remain in place until the end of this Autumn Term. However, they will be kept under regular review, including in the light of any change to Government guidance, and any decision to amend or remove the measures will consider the following factors: 

•    the case rate per 100,000 for school aged children 
•    the rate of increase (or decrease) in case rates 
•    vaccination rates in school aged children
•    the emergence of any new variants of concern 
•    any adverse outcomes for those with Covid-19 and the impact of any other viruses in circulation in educational settings during the winter period

We will, of course, let you know if our advice changes.

We strongly advise that all the above measures are implemented as part of your baseline Covid-19 security measures. These measures do not replace the current guidance for responding to an outbreak within your school. If you meet the threshold contained within the Education Contingency Framework, you should continue to follow your outbreak management plan and contact the DfE helpline on 0800 046 8687 to discuss which additional measures should be implemented for a short-term period in response to the outbreak. Measures may include, but are not limited to:

•    Increased frequency of LFD testing for staff and students (including daily testing)
•    Reduced mixing of staff (e.g., holding meetings remotely)
•    Reintroducing face masks in the classroom
•    Limitation of events, such as
     o   Residential visits and day trips
     o    Open days / open evenings
     o    Transition or taster days
     o    Parental attendance on site
     o    Live performances 
     o    Sporting events (within or between schools)
     o    Online learning

We hope that you will find this advice helpful and reassuring that we are working to support you in helping control the spread of the virus during the coming winter. Finally, we would once again thank you for the exceptional efforts you have made in helping to reduce the risk of transmission within our educational settings, keeping both children and staff safe.  

Yours faithfully,

Stuart Lines                         Kevin McDaniel                            Duncan Sharkey
Director of Public Health     Director of Children’s Services     Chief Executive