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Covid-19: Transmission in Schools

Volume 708: debated on Monday 31 January 2022

As I mentioned to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), the Government continue to support a number of proportionate measures to reduce the spread of covid-19, testing regularly across settings, delivering 353,000 carbon dioxide monitors and up to 9,000 air cleaning units to ensure adequate ventilation, and committing a further £8 million to support the in-school vaccination programme. All that helps to protect face-to-face education.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies advised the Government to improve ventilation in schools in May 2020. It warned the Government to prepare for winter in July 2020. More than 10 million days of in-person teaching were lost last term. More than 400,000 children were out of school with covid last week. A quarter of schools faced teacher absences of 15% or more. Air cleaning devices are more than 18 months late, and are being offered to fewer than one in 30 classrooms. Why did Ministers ignore the advice about the importance of ventilation in schools for so long?

The Government have consistently guided that ventilation is an important part of the measures against covid. We have had a world-leading programme of rolling out CO2 monitors so that we can identify the classrooms that need extra support in this respect. Roughly 3% of classrooms came back as needing the extra support and the Secretary of State confirmed last week that every school that meets the criteria and that has applied for that will get it, paid for by the Department for Education. This is a successful response to ensure that schools have the support that they need.

Vaccination is key to protecting our children’s learning in the classroom, yet 46% of 12 to 15-year-olds have still not had their first dose. One in eight children were off school earlier this month, causing more avoidable disruption to their education. Ministers missed their own target to offer every child a vaccine by October half term, so can the Minister tell the House what his vaccination target is now, and when he expects to meet it?

As the hon. Gentleman will recognise, vaccines have never been compulsory for children. We want children to have vaccines, but they are optional and something that requires consent. We are continuing to support the vaccine programme, and the Secretary of State announced last week that we have accepted £8 million from NHS England to accelerate that in the schools pillar. The community pillar continues to be available to children in this age group.