Government failing to follow advice of own SAGE group in opening schools June 1, says Independent SAGE

  • Independent SAGE chaired by former Chief Scientific Adviser publishes full report on schools reopening following consultation with parents and teachers
  • Full report can be read here
  • Concludes government is not following advice of own SAGE group reports
  • Analysis by both SAGE & Independent SAGE reports show unsafe to open schools on June 1
  • R will rise above 1 according to government’s own figures
  • Additional risk raised by questions over ‘trust in the government and its messaging’
  • Decision to re-open must be made based on risk assessment with schools and parents on a case-by-case basis
  • Report warns of new surge in COVID-19 cases as result of ‘top-down decision-making without engagement’ with risk of schools being ‘institutional amplifiers’
  • Public consultation held with BMJ and Mumsnet fed into final report which includes roadmap for school reopening & comprehensive q&a for parents and teachers
  • Government must explore non-school alternatives for children over summer holidays led by community workers and volunteers including the use of  independent school facilities and football stadiums
The 28th May press conference in relation to the schools report

It is not safe enough for all schools to re-open on June 1, says a report from Independent SAGE, the 12-strong committee chaired by former Chief Scientific Adviser Sir David King, The report concludes that the government is not following the advice of its own scientists.

The report says that modelling from the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE) shows R increasing if schools re-open. It notes that since it published its draft report last week, the government has also heightened the risks of a resurgence of COVID-19 cases by undermining its own messaging. 

It says: ‘Public adherence to social distancing is influenced by trust in the government and its messaging. This trust is increasingly strained.’

Today’s full report which was prepared after a public consultation with parents and teachers in association with the British Medical Journal and Mumsnet, concludes: 

‘We therefore believe that by going ahead with a general school reopening on June 1st, the government is not following the advice of its SAGE group and is risking a new surge in cases of COVID-19 in some communities.’

The report includes a full Q&A based on questions and comments submitted to the committee by parents, pupils  and teachers as well as a ‘risk assessment tool’ that provides a roadmap for schools to re-open safely. 

It says this has to be a four-stage stage process that takes into account risks to ‘the school, the staff, the pupil and the parents and family environment’ and must be made on a ‘case-by-case basis’ using local real-time data. 

In contrast, it says the government has committed to ‘top-down decision-making without engagement’ and that ‘well-functioning, coordinated, local test, track and isolate’ must be in place. It notes: ‘We have seen no compelling evidence that these conditions have so far been met across the country. Until they are, it is not safe to open schools everywhere on June 1.’ 

It also directly contradicts the advice of Professor Jonathan Van Tam who said at Monday’s press conference that children are less likely to pass on the virus. ‘Ongoing UK data and international data suggest that children are in fact as likely as adults to become infected and carry the virus…”’  

The report raises the prospect that asymptomatic children could become ‘institutional amplifiers’ spreading the virus unnoticed into the community and that there are heightened risk of disease for families with children living in intergenerational households or who come from a BAME or disadvantaged backgrounds..

The government must act to protect children and prevent them from falling behind with alternative arrangements suggesting summer camps could be set up using facilities that include unused independent school buildings, playing fields and football stadiums.. Outdoor camps or schools in well-ventilated buildings or marquees would reduce the risk to both children and communities and some of the 750,000 people who volunteered to help the NHS could be brought into help subject to safeguarding protections.

The report notes ‘the coincidental government release of SAGE advisory documents relevant to school re-opening’ last week on the same day that Independent SAGE published its draft report. Its analysis of the modelling concludes, ‘policy decisions are not directly based on the mathematical modelling feeding into SAGE.

‘Of all the detailed scenarios provided by DfE and then considered by epidemiological models, none were selected as the government policy for reopening schools’.

The full report can be read here.