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Education Committee President responds to unions open letter

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Saturday 27 November 2021

Statement from Deputy Andrea Dudley-Owen in response to letter received from the NASUWT:

'Constructive engagement with Unions is very important to me, so I was pleased to receive correspondence from the UK General Secretary of the NASUWT this afternoon. It is however disappointing that having committed thoughts to paper, and shared them widely, that time was not taken to fact check the full picture in Guernsey.

'By way of background, as of midday on Tuesday 23rd November there were 176 students with Covid-19 in States-run schools, out of a total of 6,781 students across all States-run schools. As at the same time, there were 11 known cases of Covid-19 amongst 880 staff in States-run schools. In terms of general absence data the difference between this current term and a pre-covid comparison, in the 2019 autumn term school attendance was at 95.69% whereas this term attendance is currently at 91.85%.

'I think this data demonstrates that in Guernsey we are managing the implications of Covid-19 well, minimising the disruption to students as much as possible. Having said that, we know the staff are really stretched at the moment, largely caused by absences - both student and staff - caused by those with symptoms staying at home until they have received a negative PCR test result and an increase in workload as a result of undertaking contact tracing administration. We again thank staff who are doing all they can to manage these challenges, which are of course being experienced in many other sectors, as our community continues to do the right thing by staying at home when unwell and seeking a PCR test.

'I am concerned by the lack of understanding of our local situation that Dr Roach shows in his letter, and saying there are "precious few" precautions in place other than strongly recommending face coverings and carbon dioxide detectors is fundamentally inaccurate and, dare I say on face value deliberately inflammatory.  It is interesting to note that exactly the same comments were made by Dr Roach about the situation in Jersey, when they are taking a different approach to us here in Guernsey.

'I will take the opportunity to address each of the NASUWT's three recommendations:

'Stop whole-school assemblies and in-person staff/parents meetings

'No school in Guernsey should be holding whole-school assemblies. All headteachers have received operational guidance to that effect. Decisions around whether schools hold partial assemblies and other events have rightly been left to the relevant headteacher or principal.

There is nothing in the current Public Health guidance that would preclude in-person parent/teacher meetings from taking place, as ever with appropriate mitigations in place such as social distancing. The school can ask parents and staff to wear face coverings, which we have already strongly advised all adults visiting school premises to do, should the school decide to host them. Equally, it has been decided by many settings, that staff/parent meetings will be held online.

'Reintroduce mandatory face coverings in all school areas

'Face coverings have never been mandatory in Guernsey schools and the NASUWT doesn't specify who should be wearing them in all school areas so we must assume they mean all staff and students of all ages in all areas of the school, including classrooms. As a parent of school-age children myself, I cannot agree with the suggestion that children as young as five should be forced to wear a face covering all day. I don't believe parents would support that either. It feels entirely disproportionate to the risk and data around the number of cases. It is also counter to Public Health guidance around the wearing of face coverings.

'We have continued to promote the wearing of face coverings on school grounds and have received an excellent response from parents and carers. While take-up amongst staff has been great in some schools, we are also aware of others where it has not. The Director of Education continues to work with headteachers to encourage that. If our expectation is for parents and carers to wear face coverings on school grounds, then it seems right that staff do so as well, especially in communal areas where social distancing is not easy.

It has undoubtedly been a challenge to get a high take-up of mask wearing amongst Secondary students as a collective. We are currently reviewing our policy on the requirement for students to wear face coverings in Secondary and Post-16 education and will provide a further statement on that early next week.

'Postpone/cancel any non-essential activities

'I'm surprised by this suggestion as following discussions between Public Health and Education, guidance was issued to all educational settings about the hosting of events - for example nativities. The Public Health advice was that events could go ahead with some sensible mitigations in place, including:

'Education updated its operational guidance for headteachers and principals to include this advice and encourages leaders to use the guidance to make decisions based on their circumstances and the events their settings were intending to hold.

'As such it has already been within the gift of each school to cancel or postpone non-essential events should they feel it appropriate based on risk assessments.'

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