Covid guidance sent to Bedford schools is 'not in line' with official Government policy

Staff, visitors and students asked to wear masks in all communal areas outside the classroom
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Covid guidance in a letter sent out to Bedford borough schools does not officially align with Department for Education policy, a meeting heard.

Ben Pearson, the Bedford Borough's chief officer for education, SEND and school infrastructure, gave an update on the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic in schools to the Children's Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Monday, November 1.

He said that the council is continuing to see significant numbers of Covid cases, particularly amongst our 11 to 15-year-olds.

A letter was sent out to Bedford borough schoolsA letter was sent out to Bedford borough schools
A letter was sent out to Bedford borough schools

"The cases have been higher this half-term than they were in any previous time amongst that cohort of young people," he said.

He added: “We have also seen quite a significant increase in cases amongst our five to 10-year-olds, our primary age cohort as well.

“Thankfully, we haven't seen young people starting to get really seriously ill in large numbers, but there have been a couple of young people that have got more and more ill.

"We're also aware of the knock-on effect to adults, and to the parents and then to grandparents and older age ranges, which as a council we're obviously monitoring very closely."

Councillor Hilde Hendrickx (LibDems, Newnham Ward), and meeting chair, asked: "What is the guidance from the Department for Education at the moment regarding Covid measures in schools?

"How does it work, when can we put out some extra guidance?"

Mr Pearson replied: "The guidance that was sent out on Friday does not officially go in line with the Department for Education policy.

"Officially, Bedford borough didn't hit the thresholds where we, as a council, could say we want everybody to wear masks."

Mr Pearson added that the council has had conversations with very senior colleagues within the Department for Health and the Department for Education.

"Both the regional schools commissioner, acting on behalf of the Department for Education, and Public Health England wrote back to Vicky [Head] as our director of public health saying if that's the route you take - to issue the letter - we won't oppose that."

In her letter, Ms Head advised all schools and colleges to ensure that all staff, visitors, students in Year 7 and above (Year 5 and above in Middle Schools) wear masks in all communal areas outside the classroom.

Schools and colleges were also asked to reduce indoor gatherings and mixing between classes and year groups, as they see as appropriate.

Suggestions included virtual assemblies and staggered lunch and break times.

Mr Pearson said: "We've got a strange situation now where it might not be directly in line with policy, but there is no direct opposition for us issuing a letter that says we think these measures will help keep people safe.

"The guidance from September onwards from the DfE was 'crack on, it's gone now, usual processes back in school'.

"It's not one that I think many of us were comfortable with, I'm really glad we got to this position now [updated guidance]," he said.