New guidance over the reduced isolation period for Covid has sparked confusion among headteachers, with the government accused of having “lower standards of safety” in education.
People who test positive are now allowed to isolate for seven days instead of 10, if they return two negative lateral flow results.
Schools have been left grappling over advice that says people should still avoid mixing with others – especially in crowded and enclosed spaces – after ending isolation early in this way.
The government confirmed with The Independent children can return to school as normal after ending their isolation after seven days with negative lateral flows.
Michael Tidd, a primary school headteacher in East Sussex told The Independent: “It’s frustrating that schools and teachers seem to have lower standards of safety than the wider public.
“It’s not clear to me why most people have to avoid crowded areas, yet schoolchildren – the very group with lowest levels of vaccination – are just told to get back to it.”
He added: “It seems likely that it increases the risk for their peers and for teachers working with them.”
Others said there had been a lack of communication over what the new guidance over a shortened isolation period means specifically for students and teachers.
“There is no guidance for schools. We haven’t had anything from the DfE and we go back to school on Tuesday,” Stuart Guest, a primary school headteacher in Birmingham, told The Independent.
He said he wanted more “clarity and background” over the decisions, such as whether a child who finished isolating after seven days was allowed to go back into a class with a vulnerable staff member.
New guidance says people who test positive for Covid can cut their isolation period down by doing two negative lateral flows on day six and seven – and stop isolating after the latter.
In this section, the government says this “applies to children and young people who usually attend an education or childcare setting”.
But Geoff Barton from General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), told The Independent: “The new rules on a self-isolation period of seven days are confusing in respect of how this applies to education settings because they advise to avoid crowded spaces after the seventh day which is obviously difficult in a school or college.”
“We’ll be seeking clarification from the government and will be reporting back to our members in due course.”
The union’s general secretary added: “It would be a good idea if the government gave more thought to these things before it announces them.”
Fears have also been raised over the potential impact of staffing shortages next term, which unions warned led to school closures last term and could send learning online in the new year.
The government has called on former teachers to sign up to supply agencies to bolster the workforce in a bid to combat shortages.
Retired and ex-teachers told The Independent they would not be returning to the classroom amid concerns for their safety during the Covid pandemic.