New advice for Calderdale parents about when to keep kids off school as coronavirus rates rise

Ash Green Community Primary School Headteacher Mungo SheppardAsh Green Community Primary School Headteacher Mungo Sheppard
Ash Green Community Primary School Headteacher Mungo Sheppard
Alarming rates of Covid-19 among children and increased pressure on health services have triggered new advice about keeping kids off school.

Calderdale Council has issued fresh guidance to schools and parents - different to Government guidelines - in a bid to reduce coronavirus cases.

The borough is seeing its highest case rates since the pandemic began, and was last week being reported as having the sixth highest rate in the country.

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Calderdale Council’s Director of Public Health, Debs Harkins, said: “This is advice but w are appealing to people follow it and help Calderdale.”

It includes asking parents to keep children at home for three to five days if anyone in their household tests positive for Covid-19. They should then take a PCR test and only return if the result is negative.

Ms Harkins stressed the importance of taking a PCR test, rather than a lateral flow test, as she said the results are more reliable.

Current Government advice means that under 18s do not need to self-isolate if there is anyone in their household who tests positive, although they are advised to take a PCR test.

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Ms Harkins says the aim of the measures is to reduce coronavirus rates in schools and beyond to relieve the pressure on hospitals and social care services, and have less children off school with the virus.

“As we all learn to live with Covid-19, we need to find the right balance between minimising the risk of infection, reducing disruption to our lives and ensuring our health and care services aren’t overwhelmed,” she said.

“Unfortunately, we’re seeing real pressures within our hospitals at the moment. Contact tracing data shows that the high number of cases is being caused by the virus spreading in education settings, and we need to bring the situation under control.”

Despite high vaccination take-up, the high rates are still bringing people into hospital with Covid-19. There are also staffing issues, with NHS and social care workers needing to be off if they test positive..

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Mungo Sheppard, Headteacher at Ash Green Primary School in Mixenden, Halifax, welcomed the advice, saying it was helpful for schools who have been struggling with rising case rates.

The pandemic has been tough on schools, he said, and is still taking its toll.

“My first phone calls of the day are always giving Covid-19 advice,” he said. “It’s just taking an inordinate amount of time.

“Staffing is a big worry, it’s been nightmarish for the last two years. I have 109 staff and on some occasions we’ve gone into double figures with the number of people who were off.”

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As well as the new advice to parents, Calderdale Council has issued a series of new measures for the district’s schools to consider.

It is advising secondary schools to look at bringing back face coverings for pupils and staff, and all schools ensure windows are open and reduce mixing between class groups.

Schools are also being asked to limit visitors, look at holding events like parents evening online, rather than face-to-face, and carefully consider whether to go ahead with residentail visits.

The council’s Director of Public Health Debs Harkins said the guidance will be reviewed after half-term.

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Leader of the Council Tim Swift said they are hoping by taking action now, the borough will be in a better position by Christmas.

Ms Harkins said there are currently no plans to reinstate the bubble system - which saw high numbers of children off school before the summer - as it was “effective” but a “blunt instrument”.

Councillor Swift said schools are being given a choice which, if any, of the measures they follow, depending on their own communities.

“Schools have been working incredibly hard to protect pupils, staff and the wider school community and we want to support their efforts as much as we can,” he said.

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“Work is also taking place within schools to ensure 12-15 year olds are offered their first dose of the vaccine.

“We know how disruptive the pandemic has been for schools and we want to minimise this and keep as many young people in school as possible.”

There is an online Q and A session about Covid-19 and keeping safe this winter on the council’s Facebook page at 7pm tonight.