THE return of schools in England this week was always likely to be the biggest risk point for rising Covid cases this autumn.

We now know only too well that any increase in social contacts in enclosed public space will increase the chance of virus transmission.

If we want to know what might happen we only need to look to Scotland which returned children to school in mid-August.

Scotland’s return to school generated a national surge in Covid cases, with up to one third of new cases identified being in school aged children. Cases have doubled in the last week with significant consequences for parents, teachers and children themselves. Almost half of the pupils at one East Dunbartonshire secondary school were absent on Tuesday of this week due to Covid.

This evidence is worrying. Scotland has kept in place more mitigations to prevent transmission in schools, such as mask wearing, than England plans to.

The English Department for Education suggests that the relaxation of most Covid control measures in English schools is intended to ensure that there is as near to normal an educational experience this term as possible. It is hard not to conclude from the Scottish experience, that abandoning common sense Covid control measures in English schools risks just the opposite effect.

Unlike most of the rest of Europe and North America, the UK has not yet decided to vaccinate all healthy 12 to 15 year olds. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) are still dragging their feet on that decision. This leaves our school aged children at greater risk.

Eight key recommendations to help keep schools open and safe, developed by the WHO European Technical Advisory Group for Schooling, are: schools to be among the last places to close and first to re-open; putting in place a Covid testing strategy; protecting children’s mental and social wellbeing; protecting the most vulnerable and marginalised children; ensuring effective risk-mitigation measures; improving the school environment; involving children and adolescents in decision-making and implementing a vaccination strategy designed to keep children in school.

England’s ‘Contingency Framework’, the strategy for return for schools and colleges published in August, contains either very weak or non-existent plans in relation to the last four of these recommendations. There may be trouble ahead.

The only saving grace for Lancashire schools may be that on Monday, most Lancashire areas had a case rate of between 200 and 300 per 100,000, whilst the English average case rate hit 350. Lancashire probably also has one of the highest levels of natural immunity from previous infection.

Will this be enough to contain high numbers of Covid related schools absences in the coming half term? We just don’t know.

Whatever does happen, the local authorities across Lancashire will be working closely with schools, collages, parents and young people to keep the risks and consequences as low as possible - but we can only act within the limits allowed us by the Department for Educations current policies.