The lifting of Covid restrictions in England will lead to a further rise in home schooling and the “forced exclusion” of immunosuppressed pupils whose families will be too scared to send them to school, an academy trust leader has warned.
Steve Chalke, the founder of the Oasis academy trust of 52 schools, said the scrapping of twice-weekly testing in school communities and the legal requirement to self-isolate after a positive test was “a huge gamble”.
He said he feared many immunosuppressed pupils – and those living with vulnerable relatives – would be effectively excluded from school because of families’ health fears. “They will not be able to afford to take the gamble,” Chalke said.
Boris Johnson told the Commons on Monday it was time to move from “government restrictions to personal responsibility”. The legal requirement to self-isolate will end on Thursday, after which those testing positive, including school staff and pupils, will initially be advised to stay at home. After 1 April it will be down to personal responsibility.
Chalke, whose schools work with many of the most disadvantaged children and vulnerable families, said: “I think it will become a forced form of exclusion of those who are vulnerable, those immunosuppressed children and staff who are put at increased risk. Also staff who are living with their own immunosuppressed children.
“I think we will see a group of children turning away from education. It will lead to a further rise in home education – it can be a route for those who are worried or scared. All of this will play together in some unhelpful ways.
“The gamble in my mind is that attendance among many of the most vulnerable stops or goes down, so it becomes a form of exclusion. Removing the requirement for positive cases to self-isolate puts them all at increased risk.”
Councils in England reported in November that there had been a “rapid surge” in the number of parents choosing to take their children out of…