Schools could bring in ‘week in, week out’ rotas if Covid R rate starts to rise

By Ethan Shone
Tuesday, 9th March 2021, 12:33 pm
Updated Tuesday, 9th March 2021, 1:05 pm
Schools could bring in ‘week in, week out’ rotas if Covid R rate starts to rise (Photo: Shutterstock)
Schools could bring in ‘week in, week out’ rotas if Covid R rate starts to rise (Photo: Shutterstock)

Teachers should be able to implement a so-called ‘week in, week out’ system in schools if Covid cases begin to rise again now children have returned, according to a leading teachers’ union.

Speaking to PoliticsHome, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU) said that this option “should be seriously looked at”.

The Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) published guidance in September which said that allowing schools to switch between face-to-face and online learning on alternate weeks could help reduce the R rate.

Union leaders have said the suggestion is not about “teachers not wanting to work” as they would remain in school throughout.

Would this have any impact?

SAGE guidance published in September estimated that applying a rota policy in schools could reduce the Covid R rate by 0.1 to 0.2 per cent.

Introducing a rota system in schools was among a number of “non-pharmaceutical interventions” suggested by SAGE, which was judged to likely have a “moderate to low” impact on transmission.

Other measures which are thought to have a similar impact on the spread of the virus include the closure of pubs, gyms and non-essential retail.

‘Stops transmission and gives you more space’

Speaking to Politics Home, joint general secretary of the NEU, Kevin Courtney, said: “If cases were going up in schools in a particular area then the idea is, headteachers could say, 'We’re going to try and stop cases going up by having half the children at home', because then they don’t transmit to anybody else.

"That stops transmission and it gives you more space in the school, and for example only half the kids are travelling on the school bus, so there’s more chance for distancing everywhere else.”

He added: “This is nothing to do with teachers not wanting to work - they would be teaching every lesson - half physically, half remotely, and they’d be in school the whole time.”

England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer acknowledged yesterday that children returning to schools would likely mean a rise in the R rate, although she added that it will likely “settle down” due to the testing regime.

She also said that it would be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of a rise in the R number, as it could be down to mixing at school gates or elsewhere, rather than in classrooms.