Schools minister backs reducing isolation to five days if the science supports it

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School absence levels due to Covid have increased  (PA Wire)
School absence levels due to Covid have increased (PA Wire)

The schools minister said he would back reducing the Covid isolation period from seven to five days if the science supports it.

Robin Walker told MPs on the education committee that evidence about the protection from vaccination and boosters is “constantly strengthening”.

He also said there had been "challenging levels of staff absence" in England’s schools this year as Omicron cases had spread but he added they were less than had been projected.

He said: “You’ll have seen all the debates about seven days versus five days, etc. I think if the scientific advice shows that five days is safe I would welcome a move in that direction."

It comes after headteachers have told how they are grappling with “horrendous” staff shortages and expect increasing numbers of teachers to go off sick as the term progresses.

Some school leaders are putting together an “army” of volunteers on standby who can help as the situation deteriorates.

Around 8.6 per cent of teachers and school leaders in England – around 44,000 staff - were absent at the start of term last week.

Nearly 500 ex-teachers have signed up with supply agencies to help tackle staff shortages in schools.

When asked whether schools would remain open for the remainder of the year, Mr Walker told MPs: "This is an absolute priority for us."

He added: "We want to do everything we can to support schools to remain open.

"We have seen, of course, huge challenges and I’m extremely grateful to school leaders and teachers for the immense amount of work that they put in to keep schools open.

"What we’ve seen so far this year is some challenging levels of staff absence, but actually less, slightly less, than we have been projecting before the end of the year."

But Labour MP Ian Mearns said the number of former teachers who had signed up to help with shortages was a "drop in the ocean" compared to the "tens of thousands" of staff absences in recent weeks.

Mr Walker also defended the number of air purifiers being allocated to schools, adding that most classrooms were "actually well-ventilated".

Questioned about, Mr Walked said that the fact that mock exams are taking place this month gives him "confidence" that GCSEs and A-levels would be able to go ahead in the summer.

Mr Walker told MPs: "We absolutely do want exams to go ahead, that is where we are focused on, and where things currently stand, we think they will go ahead, they should go ahead.”

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