Blackpool headteacher's fears for education disruption as Covid cases and school 'bubble' closures rise
A Blackpool headteacher has spoken of his concerns about the future of children's education amid rising levels of the Covid Delta variant in the resort.
Graeme Dow, headteacher at Anchorsholme Academy in Eastpines Drive, said he feared the cycle of being in school and self-isolating following a positive Covid case would continue to disrupt pupils' educations, and put a strain on parents required to take time off work or find last-minute childcare.
An increasing number of resort schools, including Anchorsholme, have been sending class bubbles home to self-isolate in recent weeks.
Mr Dow said the recent number of pupils being sent home in the town was "far worse" than at any other point during the pandemic, and voiced his concerns about the impacts the 10-day self-isolation rule would have on families and schools.
"At the moment, we seem to be in a far worse situation in terms of Covid's impact on children than we were 18 months ago during the height of the pandemic," he said.
"At its peak, there was hardly any impact on primary schools - and yet in recent weeks I'm hearing from colleagues all over Blackpool that there are bubbles closing everywhere.
"I wake up every morning waiting for the next phone call from either a staff member or parent. We've had staff members who have been off because their kids are in bubbles and they're unable to get childcare, or some whose kids are positive so they've got to go home and isolate too.
"And of course, the poor parents don't find out often until the morning, when everybody's already set off to school - so we then have to safely, carefully and courteously let the parents know that unfortunately their child won't be coming in."
Mr Dow's concerns for the impact of the Delta variant on his pupils come after Blackpool Council's director of public health Dr Arif Rajpura said "older children and young adults" were behind the surge of infections across the resort.
The rapidly spreading Delta variant of Covid is now behind the “vast majority” of cases in Blackpool, but it’s being driven by secondary school-aged children and young adults and not tourists heading to the seaside for a sunny staycation, he said.
“It’s largely being transmitted by older school children and young adults. That’s not a surprise because they’re the ones that are probably doing the most mixing. They are out and about. They’re in school. They’re obviously going into workplaces and doing more stuff. There’s more hospitality open. All of that is probably increasing the case rates,” Dr Rajpura added.
Dr Rajpura also addressed resort parents in a letter today (June 24), with a "personal plea" to remain vigilant amid the "significant increase in cases of coronavirus including the variant of concern (Delta) in Blackpool."
But Mr Dow worried that the potential for complacency among some members of the general public amid increased vaccination rates could be having a direct impact on young people.
He also called for more definitive guidance from the Government to mitigate the impact of positive Covid cases in schools.
Mr Dow continued: "If you go into any supermarket, there are people not wearing masks and there are crowds. The ramifications of someone not following the right protocols outside is that bubbles can be closed down in schools as a result.
"There has to be a better way than to constantly send groups of children home for ten days. There is no definitive guidance, some schools are sending the whole bubble home, and some could be sending just the affected children home. How can we sustain that? It's almost like there was an attitude [from the government] of 'right, we've got children back into schools, now we can forget about them.
"Whereas in reality, what's happening now is that children and their families - and schools - are facing extremely challenging situations."
A spokesman for Blackpool Council added: "
A Blackpool Council spokesperson said: “We are continuing to monitor transmission rates in all schools and are adhering to guidance as set out by the government.
“Both our Director of Children's Services and Director of Public Health hold bi-weekly support calls with headteachers, as well as providing round the clock access to any public health support that is required. The health and safety of all members of our school community is an absolute priority. We have stringent risk-assessed measures in place and are continuing to ensure that all those involved are kept aware of the latest guidance.
“It remains critical in preventing further infections that everyone in the school community continues to follow the rules, practicing good hand hygiene and isolating and getting a test when needed – all of this will help to break the chain of transmission. Parents, carers and guardians are advised to check their child’s school website regularly for any updates, and be assured that school leaders will keep you informed and updated, as and when they have any new or relevant information to share.
“Anyone who is concerned about their child at school should contact the school directly.”