Should Yorkshire's schools close to get a grip on Covid-19?

Pupils at Carlton Bolling School in Bradford, which has a high number of children from deprived backgrounds Credit: ITV Yorkshire

There is disagreement among union chiefs and some school leaders about whether education establishments should be included in the current lockdown.

Despite widespread restrictions introduced by the government at the start of November, schools and universities have been allowed to remain open.

Yorkshire currently has some of the worst infection rates in the country and some people believe that schools contribute to the spread of coronavirus.

More than half of schools in Hull were forced to partly close as the city recorded the worst infection rates in England.

But those on the other side of the argument say closing schools as a preventative measure would leave deprived pupils worse off.

The argument for shutting schools

The National Education Union (NEU), the biggest teaching union in the UK with almost half a million members, says schools are "an engine for virus transmission".

It believes they should close to all except "vulnerable" pupils and those with key-worker parents, to drive down transmission.

  • Kevin Courtney, National Education Union

The argument for keeping schools open

The government, children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, and the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, say schools should remain open to all pupils, believing that shutting them would do more harm than good.

That position is backed by many school leaders, including Jane Girt, who runs Carlton Bolling School in Bradford.

The school currently has 141 children in self isolation and between 36 and 40 out of 200 staff off every day.

Ms Girt says it would cost around £3,000 a day in supply teachers to cover staff absences, so she has introduced a rota system for pupils, who spend two out of every four weeks learning from home. The school has also started catch-up classes on Saturdays.

But Ms Girt says closing schools would widen the gap between the poorest pupils and those who are the most well off.

  • Jane Girt, headteacher, Carlton Bolling School

Calls for flexibility

In Hull, where the rates have been particularly high, there are calls for the "latitude" to make decisions locally.

Ged Fitzpatrick, chair of the City Learning Partnership, said there should not be a "one-size-fits-all" policy. He wants schools to have the option of introducing measures like staff rotas and the opportunity to mix face-to-face and online learning.

  • Ged Fitzpatrick speaking to reporter Michael Billington

Are schools responsible for spreading Covid?

According to the leading science journal Nature, data gathered worldwide are increasingly suggesting that schools are not hot spots for coronavirus infections.

Despite fears, Covid-19 infections did not surge when schools and day-care centres reopened after pandemic lockdowns eased. And when outbreaks do occur, they mostly result in only a small number of people becoming ill.

However, research also shows that children can catch the virus and shed viral particles, and older children are more likely than very young ones to pass it on. Scientists say that the reasons for these trends are unclear, but they have policy implications for older children and teachers.

Data on school outbreaks in England have also shown that adults were often the first to be infected. Most of the 30 confirmed school outbreaks in June involved transmission between staff members. Only two involved student-to-student spread.