A group of unions have sent a joint letter to the Department for Education demanding the “immediate” release of data on covid variants that have been linked to schools and colleges across the UK.
NEU, NASUWT, NAHT, ASCL, Unison, Unite and the GMB have united on this cause. They called for education secretary Gavin Williamson to reveal when ministers first revived the data regarding the new Indian variant’s spread in schools.
The unions representing headteachers, teachers and support staff are suspicious that the data on covid variants is deliberately being withheld from the public. There is deep concern about the impact of variant B.1.617.2. Some areas were forced to undergo surge testing because of the increased number of local outbreaks. This has led to some school closures to limit the spread of the virus.
The unions say they have been requesting data on the variant’s spread in schools since the beginning of May.
They claim the Department for Education and Public Health England promised the data “would be released in the weekly surveillance report published each Thursday”. The first report should have been released on May 12 but it was not.
The unions said: “More worryingly, the department is now saying that it cannot even commit to a date when this vital information will be published,”
“This has been an extremely difficult year for pupils, staff and school/college leaders who rely on the government to be transparent. Any suspicion that data is being deliberately withheld is of deep concern.”
Unions want to know if the government ‘instructed’ PHE not to release data.They demand ‘urgent answers’ from the government on when PHE first shared data on the spread of the variant in schools and colleges.
A Department for Education spokesperson said the number of Covid outbreaks in schools “remains stable – at around the same level as in March and April”, despite the “increasing prevalence of the variant first identified in India, and national restrictions being eased”.
The DfE spokesperson added: “We are looking at ways to publish further data, and PHE will set out more shortly,”.
Surveillance reports reveal there were 51 new Covid-related outbreaks in schools last week, and 53 the week before – the highest number since the last week of March 2021, when there were 86.
A PHE spokesperson claimed it had already published the data on the number of cases of each variant weekly. They said they were “looking to extend this data to include information on clusters and outbreaks of variants by setting”.
“Once we are happy the collection process and data is robust and quality assured, and presented in a clear format we will publish for schools alongside other key settings as soon as possible.”
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