Coronavirus: Publish school reopening science, officers urged

young children
Younger children are set to return first

The government’s top scientific and medical advisers are being urged to publish the advice underpinning the decision to reopen England’s schools.

Liberal Democrat Layla Moran made the call in a letter to Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance.

On Wednesday, MPs were bemused when a Department for Education adviser indicated a lack of oversight over the way schools are being asked to reopen.

Osama Rahman said the decision to reopen schools was not made by the DfE.

When asked what assessment he had made, as the chief scientific adviser for the department, of how effective guidance on safe reopening of schools was and how it might be implemented, he said: “I haven’t.”

The advice recommends social distancing in classrooms, with reduced class sizes and keeping small children in groups to limit potential virus spread.

‘Potential vectors’

He was also unable to point to any evidence behind the decision to reopen schools in a way that could be said to be safe.

He also told MPs that there was doubt over suggestions that children are less likely transmit the virus than adults, explaining there was only “low confidence” in that theory.

He agreed that reopening schools was “putting together hundreds of potential vectors” of the virus who could then go and spread it in the community.

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Ms Moran said Mr Rahman’s comments to the Science and Technology Committee on Wednesday had “caused even more confusion when what we need is clarity”.

In her letter, Ms Moran said: “The decision that has been taken, to reopen schools as early as 1 June, has caused a great deal of concern amongst school leaders, teachers and many parents.

“We need reassurance from the government that this decision was taken purely on public health grounds, and not due to economic fears.”

She added: “I hope you agree that we have some work to do in reassuring parents, staff and pupils that opening schools in a few short weeks time is the right thing to do and that publishing all the advice pertaining to this is an important step in this debate.”

‘More confusion’

Ms Moran had earlier asked the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, if the scientific advice on schools reopening could be published.

He suggested there would not be a problem with this, saying the government’s scientific advisory group for emergencies (SAGE) regularly published its advice.

This is something teaching unions have been requesting for weeks in their negotiations with DfE officials about the safe reopening of schools.

They are loggerheads with ministers on plans to begin the phased re-opening of primary schools on Monday 1 June.

A joint statement from nine unions involved in education, argues for a delay until a full test, trace and track scheme is in place and schools are given extra resources for cleaning, protective equipment and risk assessments

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