Somerset schools told to open

The Prime Minister is wavering. The Education Secretary is unsure. Julian Wooster, Head of Children’s Services for Somerset is clear in his view. In a strongly worded letter to the heads of Somerset Primary Schools seen by The Leveller® he says:

To be clear there is no current scientific evidence that school transmission between children of the new variant is happening in Primary Schools, the risk remains the transmission between and from adults. The current rates of infection in Somerset do not as yet require this last resort measure.”

It is an interesting comment. To date we have seen active encouragement from Somerset County Council to put us into Tier 3 and then Tier 4. Today Somerset is in Tier 4. This suggests the virus is spreading rapidly and at such a pace as to be in danger of overwhelming the NHS. As one Somerset parent expressed it recently “I can’t meet my friends outside because it is too dangerous, but I should send my 10 year old son back to school next week, to mingle with 30+ kids… I am a law abiding citizen, but that is NOT going to happen

However Mr Wooster takes aims at naysayers in his letter. He notes that: “Trade Unions and some local authority areas have taken the view that there is a heightened risk from primary schools re-opening and are advocating school closures. ” Of course what is lacking here is a strong lead from central government.

The essence of Mr Wooster’s stance, is presumably that children don’t spread COVID 19 and adults do. It is a point of view. It may be correct. As yet there is no definitive scientific evidence to support that view. When Mr Wooster notes “there is no current scientific evidence that school transmission between children of the new variant is happening in Primary Schools” he is correct. It is equally true to say “there is no current scientific evidence that school transmission between children of the new variant is not happening in Primary Schools” The simple fact is there is no evidence.

Despite this his advice is unambiguous: “I would strongly urge schools to remain open.”

Meanwhile Somerset LibDems have called for all schools to move to remote learning until January 18th.

For Somerset Labour, Leader Cllr Leigh Redman has called for a national lockdown now. And he supports the action of main teaching union the NEU which has called for a rethink about opening schools. 

2 comments

  • A balanced article making sage points.

    Somerset County Council is the local Public Health body and employs Trudi Grant as the Public Health Director.

    It is my understanding that the Children’s Services Director Julian Wooster has no Public Health, medical or scientific qualifications.

    Trudi Grant is eminently qualified to set out the balance of risk in Primary Schools being open now or whether a period of delay is advisable (to allow risks to be properly determined).

    Does Trudi Grant as OUR local Public Health Director back this top down letter to Head teachers across Somerset?

    Does David Fothergill as the Leader of the County Council back this top down letter to Head teachers across Somerset?

    Why politicise the letter with Trade Union criticism when the health and safety of their members is a primary function of any Trade Union?

    Given that the new variant is said to be 50% more transmissible and all schools closed (except key workers children) in the 1st wave (for a less transmissible variant) then surely the precautionary principle would back a modest delay in the return of Primary Schools, while the balance of risks versus benefits is carefully assessed and openly published along with the evidence bases?

    The lack of a clear steer from National Government is rightly identified in this article.

    We also need clarity as to when local Public Health can take decisions (like school closures) that is right for their area and when those decisions are reserved for National Government.

    Speedy responses, in the end, limit periods of restriction and lockdown, whereas delay and dither extend them and the harm from economic and wellbeing impacts.

  • Schools cannot open when there are unsafe levels of staffing and inadequate safety measures. Remote learning is not schools being closed.

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