A SCHOOL leaders’ union has called for action as Wales’ track and trace system is failing to keep up with the spread of Covid cases in schools. 

The NAHT union has written to health minister Eluned Morgan and called for government action and the reintroduction of mitigation measures such as staggered school days to address rising cases in schools. 

The Welsh Government has admitted the current surge in cases has impacted the speed at which contact tracing teams are able to investigate cases in schools. It says it is working with those in education to address concerns. 

Since schools returned following the summer holidays there have been cases of classes being sent home and a primary school, near Brecon, closed due to high case numbers among staff and pupils. 

The most recent figures from Public Health Wales show there were 5,659 new positive cases across Wales while 40 per cent of positive cases have been in the 10 to 19-year-old age group. 

Denbighshire council has already asked for the introduction of measures such as face coverings and social distancing and has said in some classes 50 per cent of pupils have tested positive.  

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During the last school term pupils were kept in ‘class bubbles’ to limit the potential spread of infections but such measures have been eased since schools returned with heads expected to decide on any measures and depend on the contact tracing system. 

The union claims NHS track and trace staff are unable to inform schools in sufficient time when pupils or staff are testing positive. Tracers aim to speak with someone with 24 hours of a positive test and gather their contacts and inform them, including contacting schools but that process has been delayed due to the rising number of cases. 

The Welsh Government had always said the return to school would likely see cases rise. Contact tracing is intended to identify where and how a positive case has been spending time – and if necessary tracers will also contact schools to try and identify those who may have been at risk of infection. 

But with cases increasing the time it takes contact tracing teams to contact positive cases, and those they have been in contact with, is also increasing. 

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According to the NAHT union as a result schools are having to take on the burden of informing potential contacts when staff call in sick, or if parents inform the school, though the work should be done by track and trace staff. 

The union also claims parents are being given contradictory advice by contact tracers with some told siblings of those who’ve tested positive should isolate and others being told to ask their school for advice. 

The letter to the health minister states: “TTP is a vital mechanism in keeping schools open. NAHT Cymru requests that an urgent review of the situation be undertaken. 

“If TTP is unable to support schools then I request that health and education officials come back to the table with the employers and trade unions and discuss reviewing the current framework which is predicated on a functioning TTP system. 

“It is unacceptable that school leaders are having to take on this function. 

“NAHT Cymru wants nothing more than for schools to stay open, but our members need your help.” 

Laura Doel, director of NAHT Cymru, said: “There has been a lack of urgent action by the Welsh government to set in motion a plan after the clear failure of the TTP system. We can’t allow this situation to continue to interrupt the continuity of education for our learners.” 

A spokesman for the Welsh Government said: “Our contact tracing teams continue to do an excellent job in helping keep Wales safe.  However, the recent surge in cases is inevitably impacting on the speed with which local TTP teams can investigate cases within schools. 

“We understand the concerns that have been raised and are working closely with stakeholders from the education sector to address them.” 

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