Statistics prove it: British teachers, especially those in primary schools, are at no greater risk of dying from Covid-19 than any other working group. What are the implications, then, for fully reopening schools?

3 February 2021 By Paul Martin

There are lies and lies — and statistics. Or so goes the old adage.

Actually that’s not quite true. There are lies and lies — and there are misleading statistics, would be a better way to phrase it.

This time, though, the BBC has got its facts and its statistics spot-on.

A radio programme called More or Less, in a powerfully-researched 5-and-a-half-minute report at around 9 minutes 35 seconds into a half-hour broadcast, strongly contradicted a major British teachers union. The actual figures showed the union had given false figures for the proportion of deaths suffered by teachers. The union’s original claim was widely reported, even by the normally reliable Times Educational Supplement.

One of two main teachers unions – the NASUWT – had taken figures it gleaned from just three local authorities, and had apparently failed to realise two key facts: that the numbers who were supposed to have fallen ill were often counted more than once per person, and also that the numbers included all those teachers who went off school because they suspected they had Covid but didn’t (the majority of suspected Covid cases nationwide turn out to be false alarms).

When the Office of National Statistics issued figures for teacher deaths from Covid-19 from March till December 2020 it turned out that teachers were not more likely to die from the disease than any other working group in the same age bracket. In fact primary school teachers, oddly, were slightly less likely to die.

Yet, armed with misleading stats, head teachers had even threatened to take the Government to court to prevent it from reopening primary schools. And the NASUWT had also said it would support any teacher who simply refused to obey orders and go back into a school to teach.

At the moment only children who are defined as highly vulnerable or whose parents are defined as key workers are entitled to be taught in school buildings. Teachers who do not have any classes are still required to create and deliver lessons remotely to the majority of children who remain at home.

The astonishing thing is that teachers had become so scared of falling ill with Covid when there had never been any true figures to show they were in worse danger than any other working group.

“Teachers in England have described a nightmarish term in schools in which Covid has triggered soaring anxiety levels, exhaustion and fear, driving many to consider quitting and even self-harm,” reported the Guardian on December 14 2020.

“As schools limp towards Christmas with flagging attendances and rising cases in some areas, teachers said they lived in constant fear of catching the virus in school, and were overstretched and understaffed. They complained of feeling abandoned by the government and unfairly vilified by some parts of the media.”

If all school-teachers and head teachers had pressed harder to continue delivering lessons face-to-face — obviously with the prescribed social distancing for children in secondary schools, and especially social distancing from other adults in all school settings — the serious negative consequences of school disruption would have been greatly reduced.

The evidence has been there for a long time, as reported first by Correspondent.World, that small children seldom pass on Covid-19 to adults, though the virus may indeed be passed around among the children themselves.

The argument over risks to teachers is relevant to another major issue however. It could be argued that, even if teachers and school staff are at no greater risk, a special case for their early vaccination can be made.

Keeping schools open within minimum disruption provides a major psychological and social benefit for the children, and allows parents to return to their work — whether at home without the burden of 24-hour-a-day childcare, or even going in to their workplaces where necessary.

If teachers and school staff reduce their risk of catching Covid, it means there will be fewer occasions when a whole class is sent home because a teacher has tested positive for Covid.

As the NASUWT website puts it: “We are calling for all teachers and education staff to be prioritised for the coronavirus vaccine to save lives and help get children back to school.” The right call, perhaps, albeit for the wrong reason.

However even when all children are back in their classrooms, there is an unnecessary restriction.

Correspondent. World has shown that children can and should usually remain safely at primary school even when a teacher tests positive. Why keep sending a whole class home when one staff member, or one child, is shown to be infected with Covid? That’s not normally necessary – for the reasons mentioned above: children under ten are unlikely to spread the disease to their parents when they go home.

Here’s one simple lesson for those who’ve misunderstood the statistics: listen to the facts and go to school.