Why the climate, economic and health burden of Covid in schools is unsustainable.

PRESS RELEASE: Twitter Space Event, 13 October 2022: SafeEdForAll, joined by Green Party Education Spokesperson Vix Lowthion, hosted a ‘Pandemic PTA’ where parents and educators looked at how they can tackle Covid disruption in schools together.

SafeEdForAll is a parent-led grassroots group with 10,000 followers on Twitter. Together, we advocate against physical harm in UK Schools and campaign to raise school attendance to pre-pandemic levels. 

The SafeEd family was recently delighted to speak to Vix Lowthion who is a 6th form teacher in a large school and parent of three. 

Sarah Saul, SafeEd Parent Advocate said:

“The overall discussion raised hope that the whole of society will (eventually) recognise the need for collaborative action to future-proof our societies (of which education provision is an important aspect). Tinkering around the edges should no longer be accepted. If nothing else, for many Covid has shone a spotlight on some of the negative aspects of compulsory, in-person education in the U.K. and we have a perfect opportunity to redesign, adapt and improve education provision, which protects and meets the diverse needs of students, staff and the families they return to each day”

A follower raised concerns via DM about the Department for Education’s punitive approach to school attendance:

Vix pointed to the worrying trend towards “presenteeism” in schools where children are expected to be in school regardless of how unwell they are and whether or not they’re coping in the school environment. This trend has also placed in-person education out of reach for many children whose health status makes it impossible for them to learn alongside Covid.

Vix suggested that schools felt they would have to answer to Ofsted if attendance is ‘low’ even if absences have been authorised. SafeEd Parent Advocates agreed, but any safeguarding failure is an immediate Ofsted failure, whereas attendance issues aren’t. SafeEd Parent Advocate Leah Brady felt it was more about Metrics, and meeting school attainment targets.

SafeEd Parent advocate Claire Cozler highlighted how some schools are chasing attendance targets rather than child wellbeing:

“ It seems in cases where children are refusing school, the DfE is overlooking the importance of happiness and well-being at home. And not looking deeper into the reasons children and young people don’t want to be in school. For example, many people in our communities would rather believe that those who don’t want to spend the rest of their lives ill or “living with covid” are “anxious.” Many aren’t interested at looking at the science or data around the real-world effects of Covid.”

We know clean air makes a significant difference in sustaining health in the classroom, especially in the colder months when multiple viruses are doing the rounds, including influenza and Covid. With winter approaching Vix highlighted how she has seen disagreements among school staff over the fresh air guidance to open windows. Marc Redmile, SafeEd Parent Advocate and Scientist, referenced how investment in “HEPA technology across the school estate can help to ease staff disagreements over whether windows should be open or closed where temperature is also a concern.”

Twitter Space participants raised how Covid has become an ‘old topic’ in the minds of the public, even though cases are rising, and several hospitals are at their highest-ever burden. Therefore, alternative arguments against Covid, such as its climate cost are essential.

Vix and Marc Redmile highlighted the climate cost of unmitigated transmission in schools. Studies suggest the Covid footprint of NHS was 25 megatonnes in 2019. Outside of healthcare, schools are the #1 drivers of spread. As well as health and economic burdens, there is a huge climate cost of infection. Unmitigated Covid transmission in schools—the cost of NOT cleaning the air in education—is huge and simply not sustainable. 

Covid-denial and climate denial seemed to stem from the same groups or actors, such as the rightwing media and think tanks, and their donors. But there are some positive signs that youth are actively questioning political disinformation. Adults have failed them and not included their voices in the debate. The truth is children, and young people have carried a heavy burden during the pandemic. They have missed out on learning and social development, many are among the Covid bereaved, and a growing number are living with Long Covid.

Another DM came in asking, “How can we HELP teachers? How can parents work with teachers to bring about change?” Vix discussed how we need more technology and communication platforms. She said, like SafeEd’s “Pandemic PTA”, schools need  PTAs to start discussing more than merely raising funds to be spent at the head’s discretion. Vix also spoke about how she joined politics as a teacher and mum of three, and how parents should not be afraid to use their voices to shape policy to make things better for their children.

SafeEd Parent Advocate Kim Wareham:

“SafeEd for all has long been kicking around the idea of a parents’ union, and while we understand how everyone is time-poor, this may be an opportunity for parents to stand together and have their voices counted in education.”

A SafeEdForAll follower DMed to ask, “Should risk assessments in school should include vulnerabilities to infectious disease? And are any individual risk assessments in place in the school Vix teaches at?”

Vix agreed it was a good question and one she has asked HSE. She agreed it was a hazard like any other and should be done so that plans could be in place for future infectious disease outbreaks. There are supposed to be individual RAs for all vulnerable staff, but this is a directive from unions, not the government, and rarely happens.

Speakers

Vix Lowthion

Green Party Education Spokesperson Policy Development Co-ordinator on National Executive. Secondary School teacher, Newport Councillor and parent on the Isle of Wight

Dr Marc Redmile

SafeEdForAll Parent Advocate

Claire Cozler

SafeEdForAll Parent Advocate

Contact and press enquiries: 

Claire Cozler

Email: safeedforall_uk@outlook.com

Twitter: @safeedforall_uk

Note: 

1. Climate Cost of Covid: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanplh/article/PIIS2542-5196(20)30271-0/fulltext 


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