Hampshire headteachers call for priority Covid vaccination status to help schools remain open
THE region’s headteachers are calling on the government to give consideration to teaching staff for priority Covid vaccination status in a bid to ensure schools can continue to remain open during the pandemic.
With the Pfizer vaccine having been approved and the first doses due to be administered this week the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has produced a list which so far prioritises groups in order of age and medical vulnerability along with healthcare professionals and those working in the care industry.
However, with such an emphasis placed on schools remaining open, even throughout the recent lockdown, and high numbers of teaching staff and pupils having to self isolate due to either contracting the virus or being at risk of transmission, headteachers feel schools should also be considered for priority status.
Headteacher at Horndean Technology College, Julie Summerfield, said: ‘NHS and care staff have quite rightly been given priority but we are also working on the front-line without access to medical standard PPE. Staff in school are vulnerable and we have a had a number of Covid cases among staff and students.
‘Particularly with the exam season ahead, I would like to think we would at least be considered as a high priority group.’
At the heart of Mrs Summerfield’s plea is the massive impact of Covid in disrupting the operation of the school and children’s education.
She added: ‘At one point in the last couple of weeks I had 28 staff having to isolate and recently lost three-quarters of my science department. Before half-term I lost the whole of my maths department who had to isolate.
‘The government have a difficult job but they need to realise that schools don’t run themselves – we need teachers. The loss of whole departments makes it very difficult to operate.’
It’s a sentiment shared by The Cowplain School headteacher, Ian Gates, who said: ‘It seems ludicrous that, when the government has placed so much emphasis on keeping schools open, teachers and school staff are not a priority for the vaccine.
‘It is impossible to provide everything school is asked to do without teachers and support staff and many schools are struggling with high levels of staff absence, which could perhaps be alleviated if staff had the vaccine in the near future.’
Priory School headteacher Stewart Vaughan added: ‘Obviously we are all excited and relieved at the progress on vaccination and recognise how important it is to first prioritise the elderly and NHS staff.
‘Given that school staff are working day-in, day-out in busy environments with young people old enough to spread the infection we very much hope that school workers will also be considered a priority.’
The claims have been endorsed by Portsmouth City Council’s cabinet member for education, Cllr Suzy Horton.
Cllr Horton said: ‘It’s completely appropriate that all school staff, as people on the front-line in public service throughout the pandemic, should be prioritised after the most vulnerable. Not only will it protect them and their families and mitigate the spread of the virus it will reduce disruption to the education of every child in the country.
‘The importance of school in the lives of children and families has been brought into sharp focus over the last nine months and that value should be reflected by making it safe for staff as they continue to make extraordinary efforts to make the environment safe for others.’
The council’s shadow cabinet member for education and Portsmouth teacher, Cllr Terry Norton, feels teaching staff should be ‘next in line’ for priority.
He said: ‘It goes without saying that NHS staff and first responders must be high on the list. However, I would place school staff next in line. I welcome the news that ministers are looking at prioritising teachers and other school staff for the Covid vaccine.
‘School staff have gone above and beyond during this pandemic and the current levels of staff and student absence is alarming. The government has provided additional funding for schools to cover staff absence but we are still a long way from full functionality.’
National Education Union president and Portsmouth teacher, Amanda Martin, said: ‘We are actively pressing the government to review the vulnerability of education staff and its School Infection Survey and other data.
‘Given the risks in the sector and the priority given to keeping schools and colleges open, education staff must be at the top of any occupational priority list after health and social care workers.’
What politicians have said
Local Labour and Conservative MPs have generally given cautious approval for school staff to be at least considered for vaccine prioritisation but have also highlighted the delicate balance of other claimants who may feel equally justified.
Portsmouth North Conservative MP Penny Mordaunt said: ‘There are more groups making the case, including those who are terminally ill and who want to make the most of the time they have left. I know that teachers are a vital group of key workers and reducing risk to them will be a key concern. It is great we have a vaccine and it starts being administered this week, but it will take time while the first priority groups are vaccinated first.'
Labour’s Portsmouth South MP, Stephen Morgan added: ‘The government needs to set out how and when the vaccine will be available to those who are most at risk; particularly those in care homes and those unable to leave their homes, but key workers such as teachers need particular consideration here too.’
Gosport MP, Caroline Dinenage revealed ‘teachers are among the groups I'd personally like to see prioritised’, but also stressed the need to assess groups based on medical vulnerability ‘who are more likely to be hospitalised’.