We would like to give you a brief update on our thinking as we move towards greater normality whilst navigating the last few remaining national Covid restrictions.
The vaccine roll-out has substantially reduced the risk of serious health implications which has enabled us to return to more normal routines. This means the focus has shifted away from measures with clear public health benefits to measures that enable us to continue to function from an operational point of view.
Although things feel more normal, there remains a mandatory requirement to self-isolate if a child or member of staff has symptoms or tests positive and the last thing we want to see is an increase in absences.
Children no longer have to isolate if they come into contact with a positive case unless they then develop symptoms or test positive. Likewise, staff who have been double vaccinated. This will bring enormous relief and educational benefits but it has its challenges.
Relaxing these isolation rules for close contacts may increase the chances of a positive case entering our school and whilst the health risks have lessened, we are less certain about the extent to which this could lead to an increase in pupil absences and staff absences. This will remain a risk as long as there is a requirement to self-isolate if someone is infected or has symptoms.
This potential for educational disruption was reflected in the letter to parents we sent to you from Essex County Council explaining that schools may need to implement additional measures to help with the smooth and safe operation of schools this autumn and winter.
We have adopted all the government guidance including a contingency plan should an outbreak occur. This includes re-introducing restrictions and a return to remote learning as a last resort in the event of staff shortages. We will of course endeavour to cover any staff absences in the first instance.
Government guidance recommends that a school’s primary line of defence is ventilation, hygiene and twice weekly lateral flow testing for staff. To monitor ventilation levels, we are expecting a delivery of CO2 monitors courtesy of the Department of Education later this term.
On reflection, we are not sure this is enough. Consequently, we would like to keep some minor restrictions from last year in place for the time being and review this on an ongoing basis and see how things pan out.
Our first thoughts are large community gatherings such as the Harvest Service in the church especially as it is such a confined space with large numbers of people.
Whilst much larger gatherings such as music festivals and sporting events are allowed, these are carefully controlled with attendees having to show evidence of a negative result. Nor do such events have to deal with the impact and disruption after the event should transmission occur.
Asking you all to show evidence of a negative result to attend a community event does not feel right at this stage and will consume time, energy and resources we do not have.
We have considered the view that our community could be considered just one big bubble and transmission may occur regardless. However, it is highly probable that transmission may accelerate at such events and affect more people in a shorter space of time taking with it not one or two, but potentially many children and staff.
It is too early to say if our concerns are misplaced. Some schools have maintained bubbles and face coverings for example. Others take a more relaxed view.
We are not retaining these restrictions but we do feel the need to consider strengthening our control measures for business/educational continuity reasons whilst the mandatory requirement to self-isolate remains and infection rates are high.
With this in mind, we will be adopting the following measures as a temporary measure primarily to keep front line staff fit and well and children in school:
Again it is worth reiterating, these measures are to minimise the risk of educational disruption should we find increasing numbers of children and staff having to self-isolate because of an increase in transmission or an outbreak. Indeed, we have had some close calls already and it may only be a matter of time.
Clearly, a collective effort is required and we ask you to support these measures in light of the reasons we have put forward. We know these community traditions are important to you and it is disappointing for us too.
This decision has not been taken lightly but we believe these measures are proportional and will be continually reviewed to give us scope to adapt to changing circumstances.
We are of course urging all our community to be responsible and not take any chances. Current guidance still requires a child or member of staff with symptoms to stay at home and book a PCR test.
Likewise, if we notice your child has these symptoms (high temperature, continuous new cough or loss of taste or smell), we will contact you and ask you to collect your child and book a PCR test.
PCR tests are those that are sent away to a laboratory. They are not the Lateral Flow home test kits that are designed to pick up asymptomatic cases (people with no symptoms but carrying the virus).
We appreciate it is not always easy to distinguish between a common cold and Covid-19 symptoms but it is better to be safe than sorry otherwise we could easily be overwhelmed now that guidance regarding physical containment measures and social distancing in schools has been removed.
And finally, if you or your child comes into close contact with a positive case, please book a PCR test as they may be an asymptomatic carrier of the virus. We know it is only advisory and we can’t enforce this but we are appealing to all parents/carers to work towards our shared common goal of giving our children the best chances of experiencing a normal year.
So far we have had a great start. The atmosphere and feeling around the school is really positive and we want to keep this going.
We will keep you updated on any developments or new guidance through our bulletins and with cheerful optimism and the wind in the right direction we will be able to maintain face to face teaching throughout the year and keep any disruption to an absolute minimum.