Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has written to school and college leaders to thank them and their staff for everything they are doing to respond to the challenges of the pandemic and the Omicron variant. In it he sets out the key things the Department is asking of the school and college workforce as we look to the new school term in January.
My team of Ministers and I would like to express our heartfelt thanks for everything you are doing to respond to the challenges of COVID-19. Your resilience in the face of the many challenges during the last 21 months, together with your continued commitment to support our children and young people with their education and wellbeing through the disruption of the pandemic, is inspiring.
It has been a challenging term for all education and childcare settings, particularly as we learn more about the new Omicron variant. I am extremely grateful for your work managing health and wellbeing. I know you feel as strongly as I do about the impact on children, young people and learners’ education and wellbeing over this period and I appreciate all you are doing to ensure face to face teaching continues in schools, colleges and universities as planned until the end of term. I hope you manage to get a well-deserved break over the Christmas period and I thank those of you who will continue to support children, young people and families across this period.
The COVID-19 situation continues to be fast changing and complex. Working with my colleagues across government, my department and I endeavour to keep our information and guidance up to date and clear. I wanted to set out the headlines of how we are asking you as education leaders to help manage the virus.
Vaccinations and LFD testing
We are grateful to you for everything you do to support eligible students and staff to take up the offer of vaccination, including boosters. Your support with the rollout of the vaccination programme has enabled over 1.25 million 12-15 year olds and over 800,000 16-17 year old to receive their first dose. I am also extremely grateful for the significant contribution that the FE and HE sector have made in supporting the wider vaccination roll-out, hosting community vaccination centres and enabling both staff and students to support the vaccination programme. I am delighted that so many have also offered additional support as we surge efforts to deliver the booster programme even more quickly than planned. In light of rising case rates and the new variant, vaccinating young people and education and childcare staff is more important than ever for keeping them, their friends, family members and teachers as safe as possible. As we approach the winter holidays, take up of the booster jab is also critical for you and your staff and eligible students to protect everyone from serious illness and provide the best defence possible. 12 -15 year olds who have not been vaccinated can book an appointment out of school on the National Booking System, and from 20th December those eligible for second doses will be also be able to book.
You have also continued to support LFD testing for COVID-19, which is critical in helping to reduce the spread of the virus. In light of the new variant, the need to continue testing and reporting test results is more important than ever.
I ask that you continue to encourage:
- all education and childcare staff and eligible students to be aware of the latest information on the booster programme and how to book a booster. and parents and students to be aware of the vaccination offer for students;
- all education and childcare staff and students of secondary age and above continue to test, and importantly report those test results, twice-weekly;
- schools and colleges to ask parents and other visitors to take a lateral flow device (LFD) test before attending a school or college event;
- FE students and all education staff to self-test twice a week and test at home either the evening or morning before they return to their education setting in January before continuing with twice-weekly at home testing;
- all higher education students to test before they travel home for the Christmas break and before they travel back to their term time accommodation in January and to take up the offer of a booster as soon as they are eligible;
- all staff and students, where age appropriate, in settings remaining open over the Christmas period (such as ITPs/ACLPs, early years, wraparound childcare, out-of-school settings and settings running the Holiday Activities and Food programme) to continue to test at home twice per week over the holiday period;
- all secondary schools to prepare and encourage their pupils to take one COVID-19 test on-site on return in January and all other staff and eligible students to take one self-test at home either the evening or morning before they return to their education setting in January before continuing with twice-weekly at home testing;
- all students travelling to attend a boarding school in England to continue to follow the guidance in relation to quarantine and testing.
Daily testing for contacts of COVID-19
From 14 December, a new national approach to daily testing for contacts of Covid-19 has been introduced. All adults who are fully vaccinated and children aged 5 to18 years and 6 months, identified as a contact of someone with COVID-19 – whether Omicron or not – should take an LFD test every day for 7 days instead of self-isolating. Children under five years old do not need to take part in daily testing for contacts of Covid-19 and do not need to isolate.
Once notified by Test and Trace as a close contact, all eligible staff, pupils and students are strongly recommended to take a LFD each day for 7 days and report the results through the Online Reporting System and to their setting. If they test negative, they can continue to attend their education setting. Outside of the education setting, they should continue to follow national guidance. This approach should also be adopted over the Christmas holiday and on return in January.
All staff and secondary aged pupils and students should have access to a box of 7 LFD test kits from their education setting. If your setting requires additional test kits sooner than they would be available through the standard ordering process, or will run out of test kits imminently, you can contact 119 to request an emergency replenishment. For primary aged children LFD test kits are available through the usual routes (community test sites, local pharmacies or online: Order coronavirus (COVID-19) rapid lateral flow tests - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk).
Throughout this term, the department has been rolling out CO2 monitors to state-funded education settings. I am pleased to say that over 99% of eligible schools, further education colleges, and the majority of early years settings have now received their monitors, with over 329,000 now delivered. The remaining deliveries will take place before the end of term.
To support settings which have identified areas of poor ventilation that cannot be resolved through simple actions such as opening windows or doors, the department has now launched a marketplace which provides all state-funded education settings a route to purchasing air cleaning units directly from suppliers at a suitable specification and competitive price. Education settings can access guidance on ventilation here.
As a temporary measure, we recommend the wearing of face coverings in communal areas of education and childcare settings, for pupils and students in year 7 and above, staff and visitors. This is also the case where provision operates from community premises.
We are not recommending that pupils and staff wear face coverings in classrooms.
Similarly, in education and childcare settings in community premises, adults and children are exempt from the mandatory requirement to wear a face covering in a private activity room or private classroom, or where the premises have been hired out for the sole use of the provision.
The guidance on Face coverings: when to wear one, exemptions, and how to make your own - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk), provides a list of indoor settings in England where you must wear a face covering.
We continue to learn more about the impacts of the Omicron variant. To prepare for any possible changes in public health advice, I ask that you review your existing contingency plans to ensure you are well prepared to implement them in case of any future changes.
There are exams for vocational and technical qualifications timetabled for January. Students who are due to sit these exams will be prepared and it is right that they should be given every opportunity to demonstrate what they have learnt. Exams and formal assessments will go ahead. Consequently, it is essential that students continue to prepare for these assessments.
School and college staff and workforce fund
The government will continue to offer financial support and I am pleased to say that we have agreed that our workforce fund will continue until half term next year.
We know that in areas with high absence, a particular issue can be the availability of supply staff. We want to make sure that as many supply staff as possible are available to schools and colleges. That is why we are now looking at what steps and measures we can put in place to boost supply capacity.
We will work with sector leaders and supply agencies over the coming days to offer advice to ex teachers who want to provide support to schools and colleges. We will help them to register with supply agencies as the best way to boost the temporary workforce available to the sector. Senior DfE officials have already begun to discuss this with key stakeholders. From now, you can support this effort by using your own professional and personal networks to encourage others to sign up to offer temporary help.
We are also working with stakeholders to share best practice flexible curriculum delivery models for schools that are experiencing the most acute staffing challenges.
Everything you’re doing helps ensure all education and childcare settings remain open and can give that crucial face-to-face education and experience for all children and young people that we know is so important.
Once again, I thank you for your support in these efforts, and I hope that you have a restful Christmas break.
Rt Hon Nadhim Zahawi MP
Secretary of State for Education