Council reveals Covid-19 impact on local schools

A message thanking NHS workers adorns the gates of an Enfield primary school
A message thanking NHS workers adorns the gates of an Enfield primary school

Report by Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Dozens of Enfield schools have been affected by Covid-19 cases, prompting concerns over the impact on children’s education.

There were 44 cases of the virus among staff and 105 among pupils, spread across 45 different schools, as of the start of December. This was according to the latest figures presented to Enfield Council’s health and wellbeing board last week.

Schools remained open to the children of key workers during the first national lockdown in spring. Since September, they have been open to all children, but with pupils placed in separate ‘bubbles’ designed to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

Peter Nathan, the council’s director of education, told the meeting there were consistently “relatively high numbers of cases in schools”. He added the impact was felt on many more children and staff. “Every time a child or teacher in a bubble has a virus, that means the whole bubble has to self-isolate,” he explained.

“What that means at the moment is, approximately 8-9% of children are not in school. That has been a consistent picture over the last few weeks. Clearly, this has quite an impact on their education.”

Pupils who cannot go to school are able continue their education from home. But in a report to the meeting, Peter wrote: “Although remote learning does work for some pupils, it is apparent that there is a real concern about digital poverty impacting on a large number of pupils who can’t access online learning on a regular basis.

“In their visits to schools around the country [education watchdog] Ofsted has commented on the ‘lost learning’ that is taking place, creating an even greater potential achievement divide between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.”

To date this term only one Enfield school has had to close its doors completely because of a Covid-19 outbreak, but Peter added: “A lot of senior staff have been covering classes, we have had classes sent home because there have been not enough staff to teach them, and now virtually every school has had a case or two where they have had to close bubbles down.”

Peter also said it was “very likely” that such issues would continue into spring term. Council leader Nesil Caliskan said: “It is my position that there should be regular testing for teachers and support staff in schools. That is not happening, but I think it would be really welcomed by schools. There is a level of anxiety among teachers about the risks they are exposing themselves to.

“But also, I think being able to confirm that teachers and support staff do not have the virus means they can go to work quicker without self-isolating, and there will be less pressure on schools and teaching.”