EDUCATION leaders and politicians in the North East have questioned the government for their ‘miscommunication’ when introducing new Covid-19 measures in schools.

The large majority of teachers and pupils returned to school yesterday (January 4) after the Christmas holidays, with a raft of new restrictions in place, concerning mask-wearing in communal areas, testing and ventilation.

For those working in education and secondary school pupils, the continuation of good ventilation in classrooms, mask-wearing in corridors and public spaces and testing at least twice a week remain in place.

Read more: School Covid measures will not be in place ‘a day longer than we need’ – Zahawi

This reintroduction of measures from the government comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that these “precautionary factors” would be brought back, due to the rise of the Omicron variant across England.

Official figures published yesterday (January 4) showed that Covid-19 cases had surpassed 210,000 in England and 6,915 cases in County Durham.

Despite these restrictions being brought back in, the government faced criticism from some education leaders in the North East about the lack of communication – with some claiming that they were still unsure on what restrictions were going to be in place “a few hours” before the new term started.

The Northern Echo: Measures on masks, testing and ventilation were reintroduced for schools by the government.Measures on masks, testing and ventilation were reintroduced for schools by the government.

Andy Byers, headteacher at Framwellgate School in Durham, is one of those that has questioned Boris Johnson’s methods in releasing official statements, accusing the Prime Minister of ‘leaking information to the press’ over telling teachers and headteachers about things first.

Mr Buyers, who has previously been critical about the communication between education leaders and the government, also called on those in power to give “clear and consistent” advice on Covid-19 measures.

Even though staff and students didn’t return to Framwellgate School yesterday, they welcomed back 1200 pupils this morning.

The Northern Echo: Andy Byers, headteacher of Framwellgate School in Durham.Andy Byers, headteacher of Framwellgate School in Durham.

Mr Buyers said: “I’m a little confused about the government policy. On Sunday at 7.05am, I received an email about mask-wearing, testing and other Covid-19 measures, but then the Sunday papers have informed me that masks are now compulsory in classrooms.

“My message to the government is ‘thanks for announcing the policy in the papers (yet again) and thanks for restating that education is your absolute priority'.

“Leaking policy to the press matters for lots of reasons, but my main concern is that my staff should be hearing our plans from me and not from the papers.”

The Northern Echo: MP for Houghton and Sunderland South and Shadow Education Secretary, Bridget Phillipson.MP for Houghton and Sunderland South and Shadow Education Secretary, Bridget Phillipson.

After releasing their official line on Covid measures in schools, the government hasn’t just faced questions from education leaders, though.

On a political front, Shadow Education Secretary and MP for Houghton and Sunderland South, Bridget Phillipson, has alleged “government inaction” as the root cause of not having enough ventilation measures in place within the school and has called the move “failing the children and this country”.

The shadow education secretary said: “The government's inaction on school ventilation over the Christmas break has been disgraceful. “But it isn't a new problem. For month after month, Labour and others have called for action. And time and again the Tories have done too little, too late.

The Northern Echo: MP for City of Durham, Mary Kelly Foy.MP for City of Durham, Mary Kelly Foy.

“At the weekend, the government announced it would make 7000 air purifiers suitable for badly ventilated classrooms. There are well over 20,000 schools in England. That’s one classroom air purifier per three schools.

“Again, and again, and again, scientists have recommended – and Labour has demanded – action on ventilation in schools. And every time the Conservatives have sat on their hands, dithered and delayed. They are letting down our children, and they are failing our country.”

MP for City of Durham, Mary Kelly Foy, also used social media to attack the government yesterday, by posting on Twitter: “I know from my many meetings with them, that school staff have worked so hard to provide uninterrupted education. While the Government fail to act, I will always defend our schools. I wish every member of staff all the best as they return to work this week.”

The Northern Echo: Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a recent Covid-19 briefing.Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a recent Covid-19 briefing.

In response, Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned yesterday (January 4) that the Omicron variant “continues to surge through the country” and pressure on the NHS would last for weeks, but ruled out introducing any tougher measures.

He said: “I think the way forward for the country as a whole is to continue with the path that we’re on. We’ll keep everything under review.

“The mixture of things that we’re doing at the moment is, I think, the right one.

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