To receive an update on the impact of Covid in Schools from September 2021
The Committee considered a report on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on children and education, including the number of outbreaks from September 2021 and an update on the vaccination programme in schools.
As highlighted in the recently published report the ‘Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on health and socio-economic inequalities in North Tyneside’, children and young people had been disproportionately impacted in terms of missed education and social interaction.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was already a significant gap in educational attainment between children living in deprived areas and their peers within North Tyneside. Many children experienced digital exclusion and were unable to access remote learning as families did not have laptops or internet access. The disruption to school-based learning during the pandemic is thought to have further widened that gap.
Across the North East, the learning loss for primary school pupils throughout the year was 2.8 months, which increased to 3.3 months for secondary school pupils. Nationally, pupils in schools with high take up of free school meals experienced the largest learning loss, which has likely widened the attainment gap.
In reply to a question regarding the learning loss for primary school pupils and secondary school pupils in North Tyneside it was noted that accurate information on the impact of Covid-19 on North Tyneside pupils would be obtained in the summer in 2022 when the Council would have data on the outcomes of national tests and national comparators.
As the Government moved to step 4 of the roadmap in July 2021, a new phase of continued caution came into operation to manage the risks of COVID-19.
Since the beginning of the new academic year in September 2021 the national and local priority was to protect time in face-to-face education, minimise disruption and ensure the response to COVID–19 was proportionate to risk to children and young people. The risk of severe illness in children and young people was low, however in contrast there were significant harms associated with missed education.
Self-isolation guidance changed on 16 August 2021 and children below the age of 18 years and 6 months were not required to self-isolate if they were identified as a close contact of someone with COVID-19. Close contacts were now advised to take a PCR test but could remain in school as long as they did not return a positive result or display symptoms.
Education settings were no longer directed to maintain “bubbles” or for staff or pupils in secondary schools to wear facemasks, but the following control measures were maintained:
- Ensuring that there was good hygiene for everyone.
- Maintaining appropriate cleaning regimes.
- Keeping occupied spaces well ventilated.
- Following public health advice on testing, self-isolation and managing confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Education settings were no longer responsible for contact tracing for single positive COVID-19 cases in their settings, but they needed to notify the local authority if they reached thresholds for an outbreak and had up to date risk assessments in place, in line with DfE guidance.
Lateral flow testing was encouraged for all school staff and for secondary age pupils before they returned to school in September 2021 and continued to be encouraged twice weekly.
Local Authorities, Directors of Public Health and Health Protection Teams continued to be responsible for managing localised outbreaks and providing support and advice to education and childcare settings.
An update was given on infection rates and outbreaks since the start of the new academic year and it was noted that on 18 November 2021 there were 17 outbreaks in schools and the 7 day North Tyneside infection rate was 450 per 100,000.
Additional short term public health measures had been introduced in education settings from 1 November 2021.
The school-based vaccination programme in North Tyneside was on track and 5,000 students had been vaccinated in schools.
A Member commented that the vaccination uptake for home educated students was low and asked how that uptake could be improved and the Senior Manager Public Health undertook to provide an update on how the Council were working with and targeting home school children.
Despite the higher numbers of cases and outbreaks in schools there had been less disruption overall to schools and far fewer instances of classes or schools having to move to remote learning.
Local Authority Officers from a range of departments would continue to support schools to prevent and protect the onward transmission of COVID-19, with the expectation that the rate would peak and would continue to decline.
The full extent of the impact of two interrupted academic years of education was yet to be realised, however this was being monitored at both national, regional and local level on an ongoing basis.
Reference was made to the Mental Health pilot project and it was confirmed that fifteen schools had taken part in the first tranche of mental health awareness training with positive outcomes and the second tranche of training in schools had begun in autumn 2021. Four mental health workers would be working in further schools in January 2022.
It was agreed to note the contents of the report.
The Chair thanked the Senior Manager Public Health and the Assistant Director of Education for the informative report and for attendance at the meeting.