Frustration at new ‘last-minute’ COVID-19 advisory sent to Bedford schools at very end of half term

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Parents in Bedford have expressed frustration at being told ‘last-minute’ about new COVID-19 guidance for schools, including children wearing masks, saying there will now be increased “anxiety and stress” amongst children.

In a letter dated 29 October, the last day of half term, and seen by the Bedford Independent, Vicky Head – Director of Public Health at Bedford Borough Council, says rates of infection among children and young people in Bedford Borough have increased to “very high levels”.

She is now advising, amongst other things, that young people in Year 7 and above (Year 5 and above in middle schools) should wear masks in all communal areas outside the classroom, and on school and public transport.

All staff and visitors (including parents and carers) are also advised to wear masks in all communal areas outside the classroom in schools and colleges.

It’s not known yet how many schools will be taking up the guidance but some parents have seen emails this weekend from headteachers at various schools around the Borough.

“Anxiety and stress”

One parent, who asked not to be named, said, “she [Vicky Head] showed a complete lack of awareness by sending a letter on a Friday afternoon in half term when teachers and pupils are on holiday.”

In the letter, Ms Head said that she was “mindful” of the negative impact some actions to control COVID-19 may have on children’s education development.

Adding that she believes the new measures she has chosen “should have little or no impact on education.”

However, the parent questioned this claim saying, “I have seen anxiety and stress relating to COVID measures in my own children which is very upsetting.

“Ms Head doesn’t understand children if she thinks that they will not be adversely affected by continued measures, which make them feel like carriers of disease, and which are not required of adults.

“Where is her data showing that these measures will have any discernible impact on case numbers in Bedford?”

Another parent, who also asked not to be named, and who has children at two different schools, said there was “no consistency” across schools further adding to last-minute confusion.

“I have had an email from one of my children’s schools, but not the other. One child now has to do several things each day to attend school while another can carry on as normal.

“It’s creating massive frustration and confusion in our household trying to explain why one has to wear a mask but their sibling doesn’t.”

17,500 days of disruption

In a recent meeting, Ms Head told Bedford Borough’s Local Outbreak Engagement Board that COVID has caused around 17,500 days of disruption to education.

Adding that while the COVID-19 situation in Bedford is stable and below the regional average, this gave her “little comfort” as it is still at “quite a high level”.

Read: COVID-19 situation in Bedford is at “quite a high level” but stable

The full guidance in the letter from Ms Head, says:

  • Mask wearing for young people in Year 7 and above (Year 5 and above in
    Middle Schools) in all communal areas outside the classroom, and on school
    and public transport
  • Recommended 7 days of daily testing with LFD tests for children and young
    people in Year 3 and above when somebody else in the home has tested
    positive.
  • Children in Year 2 and below should continue to follow national guidance and
    take a PCR test if they are a household contact of someone who has tested
    positive.
  • Schools and colleges are also being asked to try to reduce indoor gatherings and mixing between classes and year groups.

Ms Head says she will review this new guidance in mid-November but that it “may be necessary” to keep them in place until the end of term.

In the letter, she also reiterated previously issued advice, asking that “we all continue to be cautious.”

She added that we should stay at home and book a PCR test if we have symptoms, wear our masks in crowded places, and use LFD tests twice weekly or before we meet people.

Schools were also asked to “encourage and support” twice weekly lateral flow testing in Years 7 and above, and that young people aged 12 and over have their COVID-19 vaccination.

Government guidance

Currently, the Government’s COVID-19 operational guidance for schools states ‘face coverings are no longer advised for pupils, staff and visitors either in classrooms or in communal areas.’

However, it does recommend face coverings should be worn in crowded and enclosed spaces where you may come into contact with people you don’t normally meet.

This includes public transport and dedicated transport to school or college.

In addition to this, the guidance says a local director of public health might issue additional and temporary advice if there is an increase in positive cases.

The guidance says schools should make sure their contingency plans cover this possibility.

We put the comments from parents to Bedford Borough Council but they did not respond before publication.

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