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A message from Christine McInnes:

2 December 2021 weekly update

2 December 2021

This week, Christine provides an update on the new measures announced following increased cases of the Omicron Covid-19 variant.

Dear Colleagues,

Since the last bulletin there has been extensive media coverage about the Omicron Covid-19 variant which has prompted requests for clarification about the new temporary, precautionary measures introduced by the Prime Minister on Saturday 27 November.

The priority remains to keep children and young people in education safely. As outlined in previous correspondence, having a contingency plan in place and regularly updating your risk assessment process (as advised by the DfE guidance) will provide the framework for you to take proportionate infection control measures appropriate to your individual circumstances and to only send pupils home in exceptional circumstances.

The Guidance clearly anticipates visitors to schools will continue, (reference is made to visitors wearing masks) and KCC expects social workers, health workers, therapists and professionals in similar roles supporting children and young people to continue business as usual in schools and settings.

The key changes for schools are:

Face coverings are now recommended for all adults when moving around school and in communal areas (but not in the classroom) in primary and secondary schools. Face coverings are also recommended for pupils from Year 7 onwards when moving around the school and communal areas and when travelling on public transport, but not in the classroom. Schools are required to make reasonable adjustment for staff and students with a disability. Health advice continues to be that children in primary schools should not be asked to wear face coverings.

Isolation requirements for confirmed and suspected cases of the Omicron variant and their contacts, but not for those in close contact with other people known to have COVID-19 infection.

Individuals are not required to isolate if they live in the same household as someone with COVID-19 if any of the following apply:

  • they are fully vaccinated
  • they are below the age of 18 years and 6 months
  • they have taken part in or are currently part of an approved COVID-19 vaccine trial
  • they are not able to get vaccinated for medical reasons.

They will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace and advised to take a PCR test. This means staff who do not need to isolate, and children and young people aged under 18 years 6 months who usually attend school, and have been identified as a close contact of someone with COVID-19 should continue to attend school as normal, unless they are a close contact of someone who is a suspected or confirmed case of the Omicron variant.

All individuals who have been identified as a close contact of a suspected or confirmed case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, irrespective of vaccination status and age, will be contacted directly and required to self-isolate immediately and asked to book a PCR test. They will be informed by the local health protection team or NHS Test and Trace if they fall into this category and provided details about self-isolation.

The NHS guidance on identification of COVID-19 infection in pupils remains unchanged.

With regard to Christmas events, under current guidance, events and gatherings (such as nativity plays or Christmas Fairs) are permitted but you are advised to identify any poorly ventilated spaces as part of the risk assessment and take steps to improve fresh air flow in these areas if you decide to go ahead. School event organisers are encouraged to consider including other formats such as outdoor or remote (broadcast online) performances. Further Christmas events guidance (PDF, 229.9 KB) is available and if schools have queries about this then they can contact the DfE helpline on 0800 046 8687.

The full updated DfE COVID-19 Operational Guidance is available for:

The Guidance includes the updates to advice regarding:

  • Tracing close contacts and isolation - to be carried out by NHS Test and Trace, with schools being contacted in exceptional cases to help with identifying close contacts
  • Face coverings - now recommended in communal areas in all schools for adults and for pupils from Year 7 onwards
  • Vaccination of under 18 year olds
  • Travel and quarantine section to reflect that pupils arriving from abroad will need to isolate and test on arrival
  • Educational visits section to advise you consider whether to go ahead with any planned international educational visits
  • The replacement of references to Public Health England with references to the United Kingdom Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

As always, the AEOs are available to support with advice and guidance if needed.

Thanks to those of you who attended the Ofsted briefing on Monday led by the new SE Regional Lead, Matthew Newberry HMI. Unfortunately due to Ofsted protocols we were not able to record the event, but a PDF of the presentation (PDF, 1.8 MB) is available, plus questions and answers will be circulated in the near future.

And finally, even with all the current challenges, I am really grateful that colleagues in schools continue to allow me to visit. On Tuesday I met with Sam Perryman, headteacher of Oakley School in Tonbridge Wells, as well as staff and pupils. A big thank you to Sam and her team for their time.

With all best wishes

Christine McInnes
Director of Education