The Government has taken the decision to delay the opening of the schools to Monday 22nd February.
This decision is based primarily on the advice received from senior health professionals including the Director of Public Health. The principal driver of the decision is the desire to ensure that all over 60s and the vulnerable and immunosuppressed have had as much immunity as possible from the Pfizer vaccine before the schools are re-opened. This objective is best achieved by keeping schools closed because of the demographic reality that the return of children to school will produce a potential vector of infections in a huge congregation of persons which will likely expose those at risk when children and professionals return home or move about the community outside of the school environment. The discussion has come after a great deal of deliberation and discussion also with the Department of Education and with the teaching profession, both senior teams in the schools and the representatives of teachers in the NASUWT. The Government believes that our children and our teachers would be safe in schools next week, but we cannot be sure of the safety of the effect of opening our schools on the wider community.
While cases in the community are thankfully decreasing overall, there are still several hundred positive cases which include around 70 children of school age, with a total of 136 schoolchildren having so far tested positive in the month of January alone. Given that the school population is not as yet vaccinated, and the vaccines are not yet approved for under sixteens except in exceptional cases, it remains a large potential source of cross-infection, so that opening them is not considered prudent at this time. Cross infection could lead to a resurgence within the community before the vaccination programme is completed and could then lead to the need to close schools again or to further intensify lockdown measures again. The Government wishes to avoid these possibilities as much as possible.
Consequently, the education programme will continue on-line for the next two weeks, with the schools opening one week later after the spring mid-term.
The Government very much regrets having to do this. Government is aware of the pressure on children and on families to cope with the work at home, and on the effects of prolonged relative isolation on the young. On balance, and based totally on health and Public Health advice, it is considered that it is nevertheless the only real option if we are to avoid the risks that would otherwise arise for our elderly and vulnerable to be at risk.
The provision of facilities for the children of St Martin’s School will continue and be enhanced as much as possible. Also, given that it is anticipated that other elements of the current lockdown measures will be relaxed in coming days, children will of course be able to leave the confines of home.
Minister for Education John Cortes commented, “This has been the most difficult of decisions. I really want our children back at school. They are missing the engagement, the contact with friends, and all their activities. And I am of course aware of the pressures that having the children at home, working on the online learning for many hours, brings to our households. So it’s been very hard. But the Health professionals tell us clearly that it would be best to wait these three more weeks, and we must to listen to them. I am satisfied that if we had opened our schools our teachers and our children would be safe in the schools, as our health and ERS professionals, and our other frontliners are and have been safe. But this decision is about the safety of the elderly and the vulnerable in our community and how we ensure they have the maximum possible level of protection by the time we reopen the schools”.