Fewer pupils in isolation due to new policies

THE number of students and staff having to isolate following the identification of Covid-19 cases in schools has been reduced thanks to improvements in sharing information with the contact-tracing team, a senior civil servant has revealed.

Picture: PA (30128269)
Picture: PA (30128269)

At an Education and Home Affairs Scrutiny Panel hearing, Keith Posner, head of office at the Education Department, said changes had been made after the discovery of single cases resulted in entire year groups being sent home last term.

He also explained that, from Monday, all staff in primary and secondary schools, as well as students in Years 11, 12 and 13, would be offered regular lateral-flow Covid tests, which can produce results in under an hour.

Speaking about the improvements in contact tracing, Mr Posner said: ‘With better intelligence provided by the school to the contact-tracing team, they have been able to refine the direct-contact process and identify affected students. This term we have only had a limited number of cases but, where we have seen those cases, we have seen a small number of direct contacts. That has been really good and positive because, obviously, isolation of more students is not something we want to see.’

Deputy Rob Ward, the panel’s chairman, asked how direct contacts of infected students and staff were being defined within schools.

In response, Mr Posner said that the rule generally applied when a student or staff member had been within two metres of an infected person for at least 15 minutes but added that a number of other factors were also taken into account.

‘The addition of mask-wearing has been a big factor in deciding what is a direct contact or not a direct contact as well. Schools also have seating plans so they know where pupils are,’ he said.

He added that contact within year groups was being reduced due to group bubbles and that the contact-tracing also took into account ‘the identification of things like friendship groups and ventilation’.

Later, Deputy Ward said that although stringent contact-tracing measures had been implemented in schools to isolate positive cases and check their direct contacts, these policies could be ineffective if infections were not rapidly picked up. He said that the last mass-testing in schools had taken place on 10 January.

Meanwhile, acting Education Minister Jeremy Maçon, said his ‘personal preference’ would be to carry out more regular tests within schools to which Mr Posner highlighted next week’s roll-out of lateral-flow testing, which complements the workforce PCR testing scheme for which teachers are also eligible.

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