Teacher unions raise fears of ‘superspreader’ supply teacher risk

Following Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s assurance on Wednesday that strict adherence to social distancing measures between staff and pupils will prevent further COVID-19 transmission, teaching unions are warning that supply teachers may act as “superspreaders” by travelling from school to school.

When asked by Sky News at Wednesday’s press conference about whether additional guidance would be issued to schools concerning supply teachers who work in several schools each week, Hancock said: “The principle is that we want to keep certain teachers socially distanced from the pupils because there are all sorts of circumstances where a teacher might need to teach classes that are in different bubbles within the school.

“The pupils are put within bubbles and the bubbles shouldn’t meet.

“The goal is to keep the teachers socially distanced.”

However, head teachers are now raising concerns that insufficient provisions are in place for limiting the potential risk posed by supply teachers.

They want regular testing implemented before the start of the autumn term.

Speaking to the Telegraph, James Bowen of the head teachers’ union NAHT said that the use of supply teachers from September was an inevitability and may in fact be higher than normal because of the pandemic.

He said that there is little in existing guidance as to how schools should manage this specific risk, adding: “A big question is whether it is definitely safe for supply teachers to move from school to school, and therefore across different bubbles.

“Currently, the government guidance says that it is, but it’s fair to say that there remains a degree of uncertainty about this issue among many school leaders.”

At Wednesday’s press conference, concerns were voiced over whether supply teachers may pose a similar risk to teachers and pupils as agency workers in care homes at the start of the lockdown.

The latter spread the virus to vulnerable elderly people by working multiple shifts in different care facilities.

Data from NAHT indicates that approximately 97% of schools in England are on course to welcome all pupils back to school premises and full-time education from the start of September.

A small proportion of schools are adopting a more graded approach, executing a transition period for new students or phased entry for existing pupils, in an effort to relieve youngsters’ worries about coming back to school.

NAHT leader Paul Whiteman acknowledged that everyone now wanted to see children back in their classes from next week, reacquainting with their school friends and teachers.

NAHT’s data, he added, reveal just how “incredibly hard” school heads and their teams had worked during the summer weeks to prepare safely for the beginning of the autumn term.

He said that parents and families wanted their children to come back to school, but added that their confidence in a safe return was “a fragile thing”.

He continued: “The long list of government delays, U-turns and uncertainty has not helped matters in the slightest, but school leaders and their teams have stuck to their task.

“They are the ones providing the stability for parents right now.”

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