Gavin Williamson pleads with families to ensure pupils take tests

Parents are urged to help in Covid fight: Gavin Williamson pleads with families to ensure pupils take tests to head off fourth wave when children return to school

  • Secondary age pupils to be asked to take lateral flow tests twice a week at home 
  • Experts warn Government to plan for a surge in infections at end of September  
  • It comes amid fears teenagers will spark another Covid crisis this autumn 

Parents must take responsibility for stopping their teenagers getting ‘carried away’ as Covid restrictions are lifted, Gavin Williamson has said.

The Education Secretary said preventing a fourth wave of the disease was ‘not just a matter for schools’.

He argued that families had the biggest influence over their children and urged parents to ensure youngsters were getting tested.

It comes amid fears teenagers will spark another Covid crisis this autumn if they fail to test themselves while mixing at school and socially. 

Mr Williamson warned a major threat to the recovery from the pandemic was young people ‘throwing caution to the wind’ this autumn as they resume normal life.

He also vowed to tackle the 100,0000 pupils who were out of education during the lockdowns. Schools are beginning to welcome pupils back over the next two weeks.

Secondary age pupils will be asked to take lateral flow tests twice at the start of term and then twice weekly at home – but the system relies on trust. The rules do not apply to primary age children.

Last week experts warned the Government to plan for a surge in infections at the end of September.

The advisers said it was highly likely there would be an exponential increase in infections among pupils after schools returned.

Scotland, where pupils have been back in classrooms for two weeks, is recording record numbers of coronavirus infections.

Yesterday another 33,196 UK cases were reported, and 61 deaths within 28 days of positive test.

In an article for the Daily Mail, Mr Williamson urged families to do their duty to prevent further disruption to pupils’ education. ‘It is not just a matter for schools,’ he said. ‘Parents too have a responsibility to make sure that their children are tested regularly.’ He added that people in ‘every age group’ have had to make ‘sacrifices’ to keep the virus at bay and teens needed to do their bit.

‘By making a small effort to test regularly and keeping to the hygiene guidelines, we will all get back to doing the things we love and ensure that we can stay in our schools,’ he said. Experts say many young people are not taking Covid seriously because it is less likely to cause them serious illness – even though it can cause huge educational disruption.

Figures last month showed only 60 per cent of those aged 18 to 24 year have taken up the offer of a vaccine. It is feared school children may take a similarly relaxed approach when it comes to testing.

Mr Williamson said: ‘At long last, we will see children once more free to chase a football around, sing in a choir or just hang out with friends.’

But he added: ‘It is important not to get too carried away with these new freedoms and throw caution to the wind.’

Following changes during the summer, mask-wearing is no longer compulsory and the ‘bubble’ system, which saw whole year groups sent home for one positive case, has been scrapped.

Mr Williamson is also keen to find the ‘lost children of lockdown’ who failed to return when schools last reopened. Some 93,514 pupils were mostly absent during the autumn term of 2020.

It is thought many are the most vulnerable in society and will be at risk of being picked up by gangs.

÷ Restrictions should be reintroduced by mid-September if coronavirus cases surge afer schools return, an expert has warned.

Dr Simon Clarke, from the University of Reading, highlighted a rise in coronavirus infections to 26 times the level seen at this time last year. He said scrapped rules which could be brought back include masks on public transport and social distancing in cinemas, and theatres. 

Pressure is building for the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to approve vaccinations for 12 to 15-year-olds.

Scotland, where pupils have been back in classrooms for two weeks, is recording record numbers of coronavirus infections

GAVIN WILLIAMSON: We can’t leave it all up to schools

This autumn we will be closer to the normality we have all been craving. At long last, we will see children once more free to chase a football around, sing in a choir or just hang out with friends. I am absolutely delighted.

After all, children and their parents have had to put up with so much disruption over the past 18 months.

It is important not to get too carried away with these new freedoms and throw caution to the wind. The fact that we are in the happy position we are now is because everyone has worked hard to follow the national guidelines. We still need to do so.

School communities still need to follow Covid precautions, especially regular testing for pupils, families and staff. But it is not just a matter for schools. Parents too have a responsibility to make sure that their children are tested regularly.

I know that there are many things people would rather be doing than testing but it’s really important to make time for it.

The last thing we want is for schools to partially close again, or for whole classes of pupils to be at home self-isolating. That should only ever be the last resort.

We have proportionate measures in place to deal with clusters of cases where they arise – but we need to do everything we can to avoid the levels of disruption we saw last year as a result of the pandemic.

We’ll also be working closely with local authorities to make sure everyone who should be in school is actually there. A new team of advisers will be working with authorities to help improve attendance.

The pandemic has asked all of us, in every age group, to make sacrifices. Some of these have been easier to endure than others. By making a small effort to test regularly and keeping to the hygiene guidelines, we will all get back to doing the things we love and ensure that we can stay in our schools and colleges.

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