Around 10,000 secondary school pupils across the borough of Tunbridge Wells were tested at schools last week for Covid-19 as they headed back from the summer holiday. The outcome of those tests has not yet been made public.
Unlike last term, schools no longer have to keep pupils in year group ‘bubbles’ to reduce mixing and face coverings are no longer advised.
Before they returned, secondary school pupils were asked to take two lateral flow tests at school, three to five days apart.
The testing requirements meant hundreds of parents and pupils had to queue outside schools last week as testing got underway at the various schools.
Another change this term is that children do not have to isolate if they come into contact with a positive case of Covid-19. Instead, they will need to get a PCR test and isolate only if positive.
Double vaccinated parents of a child who contracts Covid-19 will no longer need to isolate if they test negative.
Schools and colleges are being encouraged to maintain increased hygiene and ventilation, and secondary school and college pupils in England have been asked to continue to test twice weekly at home.
Informal soundings taken by the Times show that parents are divided over the more relaxed approach to managing the virus.
On one side are those who believe schools should insist masks are worn and classrooms fully ventilated with open windows.
Opposing that view are parents who believe that insisting on masks – ‘muzzling our children’ – would breach their human rights.
Caught up in the middle are the schools, many of whom have received, aggressive emails on the issue.
Teachers have also been given guidance on how to spot any emerging mental health issues.
Kent County Council [KCC], which is responsible for all state schools in Tunbridge Wells, has urged headteachers to follow the guidance on Covid safety.
Shellina Prendergast, KCC’s Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, said: “I would like to extend a warm welcome back to school to all pupils, teachers and staff across Kent. I hope you all had a relaxing, enjoyable, and healthy summer break and are returning to the classroom refreshed and looking forward to the new school year.
“I would also like to thank all staff who gave up part of their summer holiday to deliver catch up lessons or provide other learning opportunities for pupils, or to prepare school buildings for pupils’ safe return.
“Although many restrictions were lifted over the summer, Covid-19 has not gone away and it is important everyone plays their part in keeping themselves, their families, friends, teachers, and support staff safe.
“We are encouraging all schools in Kent to follow the latest Government guidance, which includes implementing safety measures such as regular handwashing, cleaning regimes, and keeping spaces well ventilated.
“Secondary school pupils are asked to continue taking regular Covid-19 tests, as they were doing before the summer holidays, to ensure any positive cases are identified as quickly as possible – your school will be able to offer advice on testing if necessary.
“I must also thank individuals working in nurseries and early years settings who have worked hard to keep the children and babies in their care safe and well; many of these have been open throughout the summer holiday period.
“As you return to school, and some of you start at a new school or begin school for the first time, it is only natural that you may have worries or concerns, and that these may be heightened by the presence of the pandemic.
“However, my colleagues and I firmly believe that school is the best place for children and young people to be for their educational and social development as well as for their mental and physical wellbeing.
“I really hope that as life slowly begins to return to normal, Kent’s children and young people can focus on the positive things they can enjoy in school now after missing out on them for so many months, such as socialising with all their friends during lunch and break times rather than only those in their bubble and taking part in more practical lessons and extracurricular activities.
“I wish you all an enjoyable, successful, and safe time at school and hopefully, if we all work together and do our bit for our community, we can enjoy a fantastic year.”
Meanwhile Dr Susan Hopkins, Covid-19 strategic response director at Public Health England, said: “Parents, young people and teachers should feel reassured the risk for the majority of children remains low.”
Don’t miss our Focus on… Education special guide to choosing the right school in this week’s print version of the Times of Tunbridge Wells – also including key technological advances in the classroom and information on Open Days.