Schools in Lancashire should stay shut for a week after half-term to tackle Indian Covid variant, says union

SCHOOLS in Lancashire should stay shut beyond the half-term break to tackle the mutant Indian Covid strain, a union says.

The National Education Union (NEU) is calling for all schools to keep their doors closed for a further week in a bid to clamp down on rising cases.

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Lancashire is currently England's worst-hit area for cases, with 10 areas in the top 20 hotspots the week to 28 May.

It comes as the Indian strain – renamed the 'Delta variant' by the World Health Organisation – becomes dominant in the north.

And the NEU says pupils must be taught at home temporarily to keep new infections down, the BBC reports.

Union leaders say schools are driving transmission – and a circuit-breaker is urgently needed.

The number of new cases diagnosed more than trebled in Blackburn with Darwen and Preston and more than quadrupled in Hyndburn and South Ribble in the week to May 27.

And the five areas which have seen the biggest increase in infections in the last week are all concentrated in the north-west.

Blackburn with Darwen currently has the highest Covid rate in England, with 436 cases per 100,000 people.

Nearby Rossendale has 312 cases per 100,000. By comparison, using the same measure, England has 16 cases on average.

Blackburn's public health director, Professor Dominic Harrison, says vaccines are "desperately needed" for youngsters aged between 12 and 18 – as rates are "exceptionally high" among people in their late teens.

However, he said a return to a tier-style system isn't the way forward – and the best strategy is to "learn how best to manage this situation", rather than "reverse the basic lockdown lifting rules".

Meanwhile, Blackburn councillor Julie Gunn said the local authority won't back school closures.

She said: "Our children have missed enough face-to-face teaching as well as time with their peers."

And Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, Lancashire's director of public health, warned: "It feels like we are at the foothills of another wave of this Delta variant."

It comes as the Government's 'catch-up Tsar' Sir Kevan Collins quit in fury tonight.

Officials have pledged £1.4bn to help kids catch up on their missed education during Covid – but the amount is just a tenth of the total Sir Kevan says is needed.

It was today revealed Brit schoolkids will be offered 100million hours of extra tuition over the next three years as part of Boris Johnson's back-to-school blitz.

Westminster insiders say Mr Johnson sees one-on-one tuition as the key to helping 'Generation Covid' catch up, with one source dubbing it “the PM’s big idea”.  

The bulk of the extra cash doled out by the Government will go on funding up to six million 15-hour tutoring courses for disadvantaged school children.

It will also see the 16-19 tuition fund expanded and extra lessons targeted at the core subjects of maths and English.

Meanwhile, 500,000 teachers will get extra training.

And sixth form students will be offered the opportunity to repeat their final year – to make up for classes missed as a result of lockdown chaos.

Schools and colleges will be handed cash to allow year 13 students the option to repeat their final years if needed.

Elsewhere, it's reported that the school day will get longer, with kids facing 35-hour weeks in class in a bid to catch them up.

But Sir Kevan, who wanted a £15bn package, said it's nowhere near enough.

In his resignation letter, first revealed by TES, Sir Kevan said the government scheme was "too narrow, too small and will be delivered too slowly".

"A half-hearted approach risks failing hundreds of thousands of pupils," he said.

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