Lucy Hubber, Director of Public Health, gave an update of the impact of Covid on the local education system. The following information was highlighted:
a) She had been very impressed by close working with schools, education and Public Health; the partnership working had been collaborative and meant that they had been able to act swiftly and effectively when outbreaks had been reported.
b) Research had shown that schools had remained places of very low transmission rates when compared with the general population. This has been in part due to the swift action taken by schools and their effective outbreak management when cases had been reported.
c) A number of changes would be in place for the start of the new term in September; from the 18 July 2021, close contacts identified by NHS track and trace and education settings will no longer be expected to undertake contact tracing. There was a peak in summer term and at the highest point the number of children and young people self-isolating was almost 3000 not attending education due to contact tracing. There was a far greater number of children being asked to isolate due to contact tracing compared to the actual number of cases of Covid reported.
d) Where appropriate, should there be an outbreak, it may be necessary to re-introduce social distancing and request students wear face masks, but this will be undertaken on a much more individual outbreak response.
e) All secondary school children will be required to take the 2 tests and home testing will be a significant feature of management control. There is an expectation that there will be a rise in other respiratory illness such as flu and plans for quite a large resurgence were underway with the flu vaccination being extended to more children this year
Nick Lee – Director of Education, gave an update and highlighted the following information:
a) As a general overview the relationship between NCC and Public Health has been extremely beneficial and the expertise and recovery issues have been very valuable.
b) 8 different phases were identified in the response to Covid regarding schools – each phase needed to be risk assessed and it had been essential for flexibility in adapting to changing environments of learning. Tributes were payed to the staff, not just the teachers but the whole school support staff and the low transmission rate was testament to the work that has been done.
c) Work had been ongoing with SEND children who make up 15% of students and any additional supported needed had been considered. There had been regular communication to ensure issues identified were managed and a huge range of work had been completed around re-aligning relationships around the Department for Education
d) There had been a very large focus around free school meals for those entitled. There were considerable difficulties initially but managed and ensured that children and families were supported. Further to this, a holiday programme was introduced to enable children from low incomes or those suffering from food poverty to access to free school meals.
e) There had been a roll out of ‘Children’s Voice’ which was gave us information about the experiences, issues and concerns that children had about returning to school to help us focus especially on certain areas such as mental health and stress caused by the pandemic.
f) There was some concerns about the new term and children being ‘school ready’. Some children had not accessed there early years education as early as they could have done and as such, there may be a delay in them catching up
g) As a result of Covid, it was expected that some children’s home situation may also have changed. Their families may have experienced social and/or economic challenges and furthermore behavioural challenges may have displayed following movements moved from in school teaching to home education due to the various lockdowns.
h) There still remained some anxiety about Covid and home education. The Council had continued to support children who may be susceptible to county lines or child sexual exploitation during lockdown. .
i) In preparation for the new term, new Risk Assessments had been designed and would be implemented in preparation for the return to schools in September.
Karen Kilner, Chair of Governors at Henry Whipple (a Local Authority maintained School) explained that hers was one of the schools where a whole school testing programme had been implemented when there was a confirmed outbreak. The following information was highlighted:
a) Schools staff across the city had been fantastic and extremely cooperative. The Head Teacher at Henry Whipple had been concerned about the amount of communication going out to families, which could have been construed as an instruction. However, the Communications Team at Nottingham City Council had assisted and supported the school and took the pressure from the school staff. This demonstrated that Public Health, the Local Authorities and schools were working collaboratively.
b) Initially there was an expectation that there may be some reluctance and take up of the testing. However, there was approximately 76% take up in school testing.
c) During the testing week, there had been an extended school day so parents could come along out of hours to mitigate mass traffic and footfall around the school which received very positive feedback from parents
d) A lot of the testing staff were able to speak several languages with families where English was not the first language. Going forward from September, new Guidelines had been issued from Central Government and Public Health, with risk assessments in place to ensure good practice continues as the norm
The Chair thanked all people presenting and to Karen for her role as Governor. The Board noted that it had been a very difficult period for young people in education and schools, parents, families and children were thanked for how they had responded to the pandemic. It was recognised that there was a need to continue to support young people, especially with regards to their mental health when there has been a massive dislocation in their education. The impact on school kids may have profound effects in future years and young people may have to pay price for learning loss, it was noted that the resilience of young people should be recognised and congratulated with their successes celebrated.