13 July 2021
The Children and Education Minister has issued new Covid advice to schools and colleges to support the recent withdrawal of the isolation requirement for anyone identified as a direct contact.
Under the current guidance, if they have agreed to be tested, then children and young people who are direct contacts of a Covid confirmed case are allowed to attend school in advance of the result.
A number of questions have been posed about the new policy, both by the Trades Unions and those working with children and young people, particularly younger members of staff who haven't yet been fully vaccinated.
Following consultation with officials in the Department for Children, Young People, Education and Skills and headteachers, Deputy Wickenden has approved and announced updated guidance to provide greater clarity and to ensure schools are as safe as possible in the last few days of term.
Discussions on the guidance for nurseries and summer activity clubs are ongoing to ensure that they can operate effectively as possible whilst Covid is still passing through the community. Officials are liaising with the Jersey Early Years Association to address the issues.
The updated COVID guidance for schools is:
- Headteachers have the discretion to require a child or young person not to attend school if there is a case of Covid in their home.
- If a test is declined by a direct contact, then the child or young person must not attend for 14 days.
- If cases continue to rise in classes and there is the likelihood of rapid and widespread infection occurring, resulting in the further and significant absence of both children and staff, the CYPES Department will make a decision with schools to close a class or year group until the end of term. Online learning will be available to those classes where staffing is sufficient.
- It is strongly advised that masks continue to be worn by staff and students in communal areas in all secondary school settings. Staff in primary settings are likewise encouraged to do the same.
- With the increase in cases in schools, and primary settings especially, headteachers are encouraged to support children or young people who want to wear a mask in class to be allowed to do so.
The updated guidance comes as figure today reveal that there have been 397 confirmed cases of Covid in schools (351 pupils and 47 staff) since half-term.
This is higher compared to the four-week period in the Autumn term, which was 229 confirmed cases of Covid (198 pupils and 31 staff).
Deputy Wickenden said: "As you may be aware, there is now no isolation requirement for anyone identified as a direct contact, but direct contacts are expected to participate in the testing programme, in order to understand whether they are positive for COVID-19.
"However, in order to ensure that our children and staff are as a safe as possible in schools, during the last few days of the academic year, I am issuing updated guidance that makes it clear that children should not attend school if there is a COVID case in their home. This would include if a parent/carer or sibling of that child or young person, or anyone living in their home, has tested positive.
"We will update the position for nurseries once we have consulted the early years sector.
"The Department has also agreed with the Scientific and Technical Advisory Cell (STAC) and the Competent Authorities Ministers (CAM) that, in consulation with education officials, schools can make a decision to close a class or year group until the end of term if there is the likelihood of rapid and widespread infection occurring, resulting in the further and significant absence in both children and staff.
"This doesn't mean that children need to be isolating in their rooms if they are not in school and in order to ensure their best mental health and wellbeing is supported they should be able to enjoy fresh air outside, where possible under the current public health guidelines. Insofar as is practicable with staffing levels, pupils will be expected to undertake home learning given that the decision will be that it is in their best interest not to attend school."
Children and young people, who have not participated in the testing programme, must also not attend school.
The Department has also asked headteachers, the STAC and CAM, for their views on the return of mask wearing in schools and colleges.
Deputy Wickenden added: "I would strongly encourage staff and secondary students to continue to wear masks in communal areas. Now that we are seeing an increase in cases in primary schools, I would also strongly support staff to wear them if they would like to do so, including any children or young people, to make sure that our schools are as safe as possible."
The Minister is also writing to the Vaccination Panel and will ask the Competent Authority Ministers if they they consider prioritising the vaccination of teachers, school and childcare workers, based on the evidence in a recent World Health Organisation (WHO) report.
Deputy Wickenden said: "Given that the position of STAC has always been that long-term loss of education to children is detrimental to their wellbeing and that teaching in schools should continue. I am extremely concerned about the mental wellbeing of staff across CYPES who have not had their full vaccinations.
"I know that schools continue to be safe places and have enhanced safety measures being implemented and monitored daily, but I strongly believe that prioritising this workforce in the vaccination programme will offer the much need reassurance they require."
All those working with children and young people and parents are being reminded that there are appointments available for those who have yet to had their first vaccine.
Vaccinations booked this week will guarantee that they have their second vaccination by the middle of August before returning to school in September.
Vaccines can be booked online, via the Government of Jersey website: https://goj-bat.powerappsportals.com/covidvaccine/
The Department will continue to meet with the STAC and Public Health colleagues over the summer to work on the plans for a safe and sustained return to schools and colleges in September.
Senior officers, in CYPES, are in regular meetings and discussions with colleagues from the Departments for Health and Community Services and Strategic Policy, Planning and Performance to review early years and schools'-specific guidance and mitigation measures, which form part of the safety planning and risk assessment process. Regular briefings are provided to the Children and Education Ministerial Team.
More information is available on via the Government of Jersey website: https://www.gov.je/Health/Coronavirus/EducationChildcare/Pages/COVID19SchoolData.aspx