Since schools across the country began reopening over the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen outbreaks in a number of primary and secondary schools across Sheffield and South Yorkshire. For many people, this has been alarming, with some fearing this marks the beginning of a second wave. The question is, are these outbreaks the result of failings by schools or simply an inevitability as schools reopen?
Schools in Sheffield and across the country have largely adopted similar measures to try and get children back to school as safely as possible. Many schools have opted for staggered starting and finishing times, year group bubbles and separate times and places for those bubbles to spend their breaks. Other common measures include regular, supervised handwashing, keeping younger students in form groups as opposed to ability sets and social distancing, particularly for teachers required to move between year group bubbles.
While it’s understandable that people are concerned by the increasing number of outbreaks in South Yorkshire’s schools, it seems that local parents may not need to be as worried by the statistics as you might think. In order to establish whether Sheffield is faring particularly badly following the reopening of schools, or simply taking its place within a national trend, it seemed fitting to measure Sheffield’s statistics against those of a comparable city; with a very similar population, Manchester appeared to be the obvious choice.
While exact population estimates vary by source, Manchester and Sheffield are generally deemed to be of a similar size as cities, as oppose to wider city regions, of which Manchester’s is far larger. One 2017 figure by the Office of National Statistics estimated a difference of just 10,000 people, estimating Manchester’s population as 554,000 and Sheffield’s as 544,000. According to the most recent information available from Public Health England, Sheffield’s total number of confirmed COVID cases stands at 5075, with Manchester not too far behind with 4906. In terms of school outbreaks, the city of Sheffield has had at least 15 schools with confirmed cases, with several more in Barnsley and Rotherham. Once again, Manchester is not far behind with 10 schools having to send students home to self-isolate, with over 65 schools in the Greater Manchester area reporting outbreaks. Other cities have reported similarly proportionate outbreaks with at least 15 in Birmingham, 7 in Bristol and 6 in Liverpool.
With outbreaks in schools happening across the country, it seems that Sheffield is handling the reopening of schools about as well as can be expected, and certainly no worse than some of the country’s other major cities. We should of course continue to endeavour to ensure that our children can attend school as safely as possible, however it seems small outbreaks will be inevitable as students of all ages get back to class. Nevertheless, if we remain vigilant, there’s no reason why these outbreaks can’t be contained.