Education Bulletin - 1 September 2021
Updated 1 September 2021
Important contact details
From Ming Zhang
Service Director of Education, Participation and Skills
I hope you all managed to enjoy a well-deserved break over August. As we embark upon a new academic year, this special edition of the School Bulletin is needed because of the emerging local developments in relation to the COVID situation and the recent major incident in Keyham.
COVID Enhanced Response Area (ERA)
It was announced by Government last Friday, 27.8.'21, that Plymouth, along with neighbouring LAs (Devon, Torbay, Cornwall and IoS), will now be categorised as an Enhanced Response Area (ERA) due to high rates of COVID19 across the Peninsula. While the full advice from our Public Health Director Dr Ruth Harrell is included in this bulletin, I would like to summarise the key implications of this development for education settings:
Due to the high rates of COVID19 being seen in Plymouth, Public Health strongly recommend that secondary school pupils and all education staff, return to wearing face coverings in communal areas of schools. This will not currently extend to classrooms and will be reviewed two weeks after the start of term 1 by Public Health. This measure is being recommended across Plymouth, Devon, Torbay, Cornwall and IoS, and has been discussed and agreed with the Regional School Commissioner and Local Authorities.
Dr Harrell advises that this is in line with the 'Swiss cheese' model, i.e. that multiple interventions all making a small difference do add up and contribute to positive outcomes, and is in addition to providing assisted testing sites to enable secondary pupils to test on return to school, and encouraging all education staff to also test using home test kits prior to returning to school. Regular twice weekly testing will also be encouraged for all pupils in secondary schools, all education staff and all families and households of children attending schools.
When considering the implementation of this recommendation, please note that:
- Any guidance should allow for reasonable exemptions for their use.
- Whilst the recommendation is for communal areas not classrooms, pupils, students, staff and visitors would be free to wear a face covering in other areas (for example classrooms) if they wish to.
- The guidance already recommends the use of face coverings on home to school transport.
- No pupil or student should be denied education on the grounds that they are, or are not, wearing a face covering.
School and Setting Open Evenings
In principle these events can go ahead. Given the high rates in Plymouth and the fact we have now been designated an ERA for the next 5 weeks (until End of September) settings are recommended to plan for these events with caution. It is recommended that a dynamic risk assessment should be undertaken which should be reviewed close to the actual event taking place. The assessment should take into account numbers of positive cases in the school and city and any implications. For example in the setting, has the threshold been reached (as set out in the Contingency Framework Guidance) and if yes if extra action is required how would those actions impact the running of an Open Evening. In some circumstances this could mean considering cancelling. Controls that should be considered for such an event include:
- Visiting adults (families/carers) encouraged to wear masks indoors
- Visiting adults (families /carers) encouraged to take a LFD test prior to the event
- Processes in place to manage the flow of people into, around and out of the setting
- Social distancing encouraged
- Good access to hand cleaning / sanitisation
- Good ventilation in the building and spaces being used
- Using outdoor space where ever possible
- Enhanced cleaning before, during and after visit
- Clear messaging that people with symptoms should not attend
Settings may also wish to consider provision for those not able to attend or not wishing to attend in the current context.
Let us hope that with everyone working together to implement safety measures appropriately, we will soon see infection rates in the region reduced, allowing schools to enjoy more normal routines.
The DfE published the contingency framework describing the principles of managing local outbreaks of Coronavirus (COVID-19) (including responding to variants of concern) in education and. childcare settings, covering:
The DfE has now defined 'thresholds' (as set out in the Contingency Framework) to indicate that transmission may be occurring within a setting and additional control measures may be needed.
- 5 cases / 10% of pupils/staff, who are likely to have mixed closely*, test positive within a 10-day period (mainstream schools);
- 2 cases who are likely to have mixed closely test positive within a 10-day period (SEND/residential schools or settings with <20);
- There are any admissions to hospital for COVID-19.
* The Contingency Framework provides examples of groups that may be identified as 'mixed closely' for a range of settings (P19 of Contingency Framework)
Contacting DfE / PCC Public Health Team / PHE SW HPT
Having met the threshold, settings can access support via the DfE helpline (0800 046 8687). Settings are requested to make the Plymouth City Council PH Team aware of reaching any of these thresholds using the email address: COVID19@plymouth.gov.uk. This is for information and surveillance use.
If there are any delays or difficulties in contacting the DfE, you are concerned about an escalating situation or you require additional support contact Plymouth City Council Public Health Team using COVID19@plymouth.gov.uk and request a response.*
The DfE or Plymouth City Council Public Health Team will escalate to the South West Health Protection Team (HPT) as necessary for further risk assessment. Please only call the HPT if they advise you to do so.
*This service is available for core hours Monday-Friday and will respond to weekend emails on the following Monday
This planning tool template attached aims to help education and childcare settings prepare for and update their outbreak management / contingency plans - based on the new DfE Contingency Framework. Important for settings to be aware of the examples of possible intervention linked to levels of escalation. This document covers early years, special and secondary schools so not all measures will be relevant to some settings.
- Letter templates (attached)
- COVID outbreak Template All Parents V8
- Warn and Inform V3
Attached Aug 21 COVID-19 educational settings webinar slides from PHE SW HPT. Further dates are below and these are recommended.
Thursday 2nd September 4-5pm: All early years and education settings: COVID-19 Educational Settings Webinar Tickets, Multiple Dates | Eventbrite note same link, select second date
Keyham Major Incident
What happened on 13 August was a shocking tragedy for the City of Plymouth. It has been such a difficult time, especially for those grieving lost loved ones or directly impacted by events; and we also appreciate that there are wider impacts for so many others in the city. It has been heartening to have seen the remarkable response from the community and all our services over the past few weeks.
I would like to acknowledge the immediate response from schools and Multi Academy Trusts in the area, particularly Ford Primary School, Horizon MAT and Reach South MAT for all that they did to ensure we had a Reassurance Centre open within hours after the tragic incident. Across the city the response has been to pull together and make sure that together we are able to offer the right support to all those immediately affected, particularly within the Keyham community.
There will be much to continue to do together, to ensure that we support the best recovery possible for all the children and young people, and their families in the city. We know that the impact of this sad event on their lives may be long term, and therefore we will be identifying the long term support required.
Moving to next steps, we are now planning for the recovery needs of children and young people in the coming days, weeks and long term. This includes identifying what specific specialist support schools will need. A multi-agency Education Recovery Task and Finish Group has been set up, which is part of the formal arrangements governed by the city's Strategic Recovery Group. I welcome your offer of direct contact.
With input and information from education settings, the Education Task and Finish Group will be able to ensure the right level of involvement as the new term begins, so that we can swiftly develop effective plans and provide the best support, and ensure that all education settings are kept informed, and involved when appropriate and necessary, of the Recovery Arrangements.
One of the tasks for the Group is to ensure that education settings are aware of the key messages that we have for the residents, including children and their parents. To this aim, I have included in today's bulletin a booklet that we have prepared for the communities. This has been developed by a number of local community organisations, working together to support people in Keyham and wider Plymouth, who have been affected by this tragic incident. These organisations can provide support, reassurance or a listening ear based on community and individual needs. The booklet also provides a guide to the support available in the city, organisations who can listen, reassure and offer support. By sharing with you this booklet, I hope that you will have the right information when your school needs to communicate with pupils and parents when appropriate.
Extraordinary Meeting with Headteachers and MAT CEOs
As much has happened over the summer break an extraordinary meeting has been arranged for Monday 6 September at 4.30pm for any school leaders who would like to discuss issues which have taken place over the summer break. In attendance at the meeting will be Ruth Harrell, Director of Public Health and Clare Cotter, Head of Health and Safety.
Please let myself, or my team know, if you wish to discuss any of the issues raised in this bulletin.
With best wish for a positive new academic year,