By Sadie Robinson
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2748

Coronavirus cases surge in schools

This article is over 2 years, 10 months old
Issue 2748
Boris Johnson pushed millions of workers and students back to schools and colleges before it was safe
Boris Johnson pushed millions of workers and students back to schools and colleges before it was safe (Pic: Flickr/Downing Street )

The number of suspected or confirmed Covid-19 cases among school children in England has more than doubled in a week, government figures show. The figure leapt from 12,000 to 28,000 in the seven days to 18 March.

The Tories pushed ten million workers and students back to schools and colleges earlier this month, arguing that it was safe.

During lockdown, schools had been open only to vulnerable children and those with key worker parents. Most started to reopen more widely from 8 March.

It took just ten days for cases to rocket.

The Department for Education figures also show that around 127,000 students in state schools were self-isolating on 18 March. That is nearly four times the figure of 33,000 on 11 March.

And around 4,000 students were absent because their entire school was closed for Covid-related reasons. The figure for the previous week was 2,000.

Weekly reports from Public Health England (PHE) also show a link between wider school reopening and rising virus cases.

PHE recorded 19 Covid-19 outbreaks in nurseries, 13 in primary schools and 8 in secondary schools between 8 and 14 March. Across all education settings, including special schools, colleges and universities, there were 49 outbreaks.

PHE said increases in case rates in people aged 0-19 were “likely to reflect schools reopening”.

Between 1 and 7 March it recorded 24 outbreaks across all education settings. There were none in secondary schools and 5 in primary schools.

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The government claimed it wanted children back in schools to protect their education and wellbeing. But it refused to put in place measures, such as proper distancing, rotas and reliable testing, to make schools safer.

The result is a predictable rise in cases that will mean more chaos for children, school workers and their parents. This is not good for children’s education or their wellbeing. Instead it means more uncertainty, fear and disruption.

Clacton Coastal Academy in Essex has recorded nine cases of the virus in one year group just two weeks since schools fully reopened. An entire bubble of students is now self-isolating for the rest of the term and has switched back to online learning.

Barnsley in South Yorkshire now has the highest Covid-19 infection rate in England. Cases rose by a third in the week to 18 March.

The full reopening of schools, plus unsafe conditions in workplaces, has been blamed for the rise. More positive cases have been found among children and younger adults. And nearly a third of Barnsley’s schools are currently hit with closure or people self-isolating.

In Scotland, more children began returning to schools on 22 February with older groups returning throughout March. Cases are now rising across Scotland, according to the Office for National Statistics.

In Livingston, West Lothian, Peel Primary school is closing fully for a week after a Covid-19 outbreak. It had initially said it would remain open following a small number of confirmed cases.

Public Health Scotland figures show that West Lothian now has the highest infection rate in Scotland—with cases mainly in Livingston.


The government has sent a mobile testing centre to Livingston to try and contain the spread of the outbreak.

In Wales, where full school reopening began earlier than in England, rising cases also mean chaos for many children. On Anglesey, students and staff at seven schools are self-isolating following virus outbreaks.

The Tories like to talk of “uncertainty” in terms of children and coronavirus. They focus on the fact that children are far less likely to suffer a severe reaction if they catch Covid-19.

But the evidence repeatedly shows that children catch and spread the virus—and this has an impact beyond the school gates.

A study published in the British Medical Journal last week said schools may be linked to a rise in infections among adults in the second wave of the virus.

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It compared outcomes among adults living with and without children during the first and second waves of the pandemic last year. The research investigated records for 12 million adults in England and looked at infection rates, hospitalisation, intensive care admission and deaths.

Living with children wasn’t associated with increased risk for adults aged 65 and under during the first wave, from February to the end of August.

Yet there was an “increased risk” of infection and hospitalisation in adults living with children during the second wave, from September to December.

What was the difference between the first and second waves? In the first, schools were closed. In the second, schools were open.

“These increased risks during wave two were observed when schools remained open, raising the possibility that widespread school attendance may have led to increased risks to households,” said the report.

It added that “other differences” between households with and without children could explain the findings. These could include school openings allowing parents to be pushed to travel to work “increasing potential contacts”.

Unions rightly warned that, without proper safety measures in place, the full reopening of schools and colleges would help to spread the virus. But unfortunately, union leaders did not call on workers to refuse to attend unsafe workplaces.

The Tories will continue to risk the safety of working class people for the sake of profit, regardless of the evidence or “the science”. They want schools open so that parents can be more easily pushed back to workplaces.

Primary school workers in January refused to return to unsafe workplaces and showed that it is possible to resist the government. Their action will have saved lives. More workers’ action is the only way to stop the Tories putting more of our lives at risk. 

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