Coronavirus hits 96 Norfolk schools as face mask rules come into force
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Almost 100 schools across Norfolk have reported a pupil or a member of staff testing positive for coronavirus as new lockdown measures requiring staff and pupils to wear face masks come into force.
Norfolk County Council said there were currently 10 school and college outbreaks and 88 situations at the county’s 422 schools and academies.
Outbreaks are where there are two or more confirmed positives, a situation is where there is one positive case of Covid.
It comes as new guidance published just hours before the start of the four-week lockdown said all students and teachers in secondary schools and colleges should wear face coverings in communal spaces.
However primary school children do not need to wear face coverings, and older children and young people with special educational needs or disabilities may be exempt from wearing them, depending on their need.
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The Department for Education (DfE) said no-one should be excluded from education for not having a face covering.
MORE: School closed and pupils told to isolate after Covid casesGeoff Barton, a former Bury St Edmunds headteacher and general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “This extension to the rule on face coverings is a sensible response to rising Covid levels, and will act as an extra level of protection on top of the other safety measures in schools.
“It is vital that this requirement is respected by all parents and pupils. The vast majority are supportive, but we are aware of schools receiving objections from some parents to existing policies.”
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The DfE has said schools should work to implement the guidance as soon as possible, but have until November 9 if they require additional time.
Marshland High School near Wisbech was among schools to have already made it compulsory for students and staff to wear face coverings in corridors.
Headteacher Craig Jansen said: “Our primary aim is to keep our school community safe and calm, reduce the risk of increased lockdown restrictions, and to ensure our students are able to stay in school and focus on their learning.
“I would like to say a big thank you to our students who are co-operating with staff and who have adapted brilliantly to the new temporary Covid rules, as well as to all the parents supporting them.”
The new guidelines also stop extra-curricular before and after school activities unless for childcare purposes.
Penny Sheppard, headteacher at Queen’s Hill Primary School in Costessey, said it had left headteachers judging what is “essential” for the curriculum and running of the school and what is “extra”.
While her pupils will enjoy a return to swimming lessons in the school pool, a visit by the school photographer next week was deemed not an “essential activity”. Parents’ evenings are taking place by phone.
She said: “We had been fairly strict in our interpretation of the previous guidance, so all my staff were already wearing face masks when outside their class bubble.
“What it has meant though is that we have had to stop some of our after school clubs that were going to be happening.
“It has been quite difficult this time. In the last lockdown it was very black and white about what you could do, but some of this guidance is a little bit grey this time. I have had quite a few questions going backwards and forwards with the local authority.”
John Fisher, cabinet member for children’s service at Norfolk County Council, said: “I know the leaders of educational settings across the county have been working tirelessly to ensure their risk assessments and arrangements are right for the safety of their staff, children and parents.
“The early reports from and interactions we’ve had with schools show they are positive about remaining open and are managing well with attendance remaining high across the county.
“As a local authority we are offering support and guidance and working with education leaders closely, as we have throughout the pandemic.”
MORE: School forced to close after ‘high staff absences’ due to CovidMs Sheppard said reaction from parents had been positive and lockdown had not led to an increase in absences.
“Our numbers still fluctuate each week due to families self-isolating either through test and trace or someone in the family has a medical condition,” she said.
“We are a large school so we always have at least 10 children who are self-isolating but we haven’t seen an increase in absences at all.”
Cllr Fisher added: “We are now in lockdown because of rising rates of the virus across the country and across Norfolk so I would take this opportunity to reinforce the message to parents and anyone visiting schools for any reason to take extra care and ensure they are following the guidance their particular school is giving around staggered pick up and drop off times, how to move around school premises in a Covid-safe manner, wearing face coverings where required, and social distancing near to school gates.
“Outside of the school day, it’s also very important that we all play our part in staying at home as much as possible.”