A Bradley Stoke primary school with just 420 children on roll saw a total of 43 pupils and 19 staff test positive for Covid-19 over the two-week period leading up to the end of the autumn term on Thursday 17th December.
The time span of the outbreak at Wheatfield Primary School, believed to be one of the most serious in South Gloucestershire since the start of the pandemic, aligns closely with a sudden jump in the seven-day case numbers for the whole of Bradley Stoke, which shot up from 39 in the week to 3rd December to 115 in the week to 10th December, followed by a further 114 in the week to 17th December.
Based on the latest-available seven-day case rates (covering the period to 17th December), Bradley Stoke currently has the highest Covid-19 infection rate in the whole of the West of England, with Bradley Stoke Central at 513.9 and Bradley Stoke North East at 543.4 (both expressed as cases per 100,000 population). The corresponding figures for South Gloucestershire and the United Kingdom are 187.3 and 302.0 respectively.
The first case was notified to the school on Friday 4th December, resulting in two Year 5 classes being closed. By the following Tuesday (8th December) 15 pupils and 6 members of staff had tested positive and a further six classes had been sent home to self-isolate.
In a letter sent to parents/carers on 8th December, the school stated that four of the six staff cases could be linked to the first case.
Headteacher Phil Winterburn wrote:
“A couple of families have asked why some adults have moved across bubbles – I need to point out that, under DfE guidance, this is allowed to happen – it has also been essential. We have not had adults needlessly moving between bubbles – the movement we have agreed has been to support vulnerable pupils, cover for colleagues who are off or provide cover for standard aspects of the weekly timetable such as PPA [planning, preparation and assessment] time.”
Following a “detailed and open meeting with members of the South Gloucestershire Public Health
Team and Education Department” about the situation the school was facing, it was decided to move further classes to remote learning, leaving just five of the school’s fourteen classes attending as normal.
With the situation continuing to deteriorate on Wednesday, a decision was taken that evening to completely ‘close’ the school for two days on Thursday and Friday (10th/11th December).
By Friday 11th December, there were 27 positive cases amongst pupils and a further 14 amongst staff. At this time the school had 31 staff self-isolating and all but three classes self-isolating due to close contact with a positive case.
In a letter to parents/carers, Mr Winterburn wrote:
“My colleagues in Public Health and Education today made the point that Bradley Stoke currently has the highest infection rates in the whole of South Gloucestershire (a Tier 3 authority). I believe this context is really important and good for families to know as you go about your day-to-day life over the weekend and through the holiday period.”
By the following Monday (14th December), a total of 19 further positive cases had been notified to the school (consisting of 15 pupils and 4 staff) bringing the total number since Friday 4th December to 61 (43 pupils and 18 staff).
In the light of this further deterioration of the situation, it was announced that the school would not reopen to classes for the remainder of the term, as Mr Winterburn explained in another letter:
“This morning we met again with members of the Public Health and Education Departments to review these new cases and the impact on our ability to open the school safely. We also considered the implications of the government’s reduction in the isolation period from 14 to 10 days. Given the complexity of the situation and the continuation of positive cases, we have taken the difficult decision not to reopen the school to any classes this week. I trust that families will feel supportive of this decision and understand it is essential for the safety of everyone associated with the school. Our remote learning offer will therefore continue for all classes for the remainder of this week and the school will reopen its doors to pupils again on Monday 4th January 2021.”
On what would have been the final day of term, Thursday 17th December, Wheatfield’s positive case count stood at 62, with pupils accounting for 43 cases and a further 19 cases amongst staff. A total of 36 staff were self-isolating on this date.
On learning of the major outbreak at Wheatfield Primary School, the Journal put a number of queries to South Gloucestershire Council. The responses (received on Monday 21st December) are shown below.
Please provide a statement on the current extremely high rates of Covid-19 cases in Bradley Stoke (accounting for 26 percent of cases in the whole of South Glos as of 10th December seven-day rates)
The increasing cases in Bradley Stoke will be due to a combination of factors including cases in schools, one of which is Wheatfield Primary School, however this is not the only school in the area that has reported cases. We are also seeing an increase in numbers of infections as more businesses and workplaces have opened and our social contacts have increased.
Our Public Health team continuously analyse enhanced data analysis to try to understand what’s happening in South Gloucestershire, why our numbers have been increasing and looking at any particular areas we need to be focusing on.
Please provide a statement on the ‘closure’ of Wheatfield Primary School due to at least 61 Covid-19 cases within the school community (as of 14th December).
“Wheatfield Primary School has not closed but has moved to remote learning for all classes until the end of term. There has been a high number of cases reported, but where cases are related they are usually within a bubble. The decision to move to remote learning has been a pragmatic decision taken by the Education and Public Health South Gloucestershire departments of the Council in conjunction with the school. Some of the pupils are not required to self-isolate but looking at staffing and safety it was felt that the best decision was to move the school to remote learning for the final week.”
“Although some pupils may have been able to return on the Tuesday or Wednesday, the impact on staffing has meant that remote learning is the safest and most educationally sound decision.”
Please provide a comment on the extent to which the above two issues above are potentially linked.
As there is a high number of cases in the area, it would naturally follow that there are also high numbers at local workplaces and schools.
Wheatfield has reported a number of cases and this will be contributing to the overall picture, as will cases in other schools in the area alongside cases within the community.
Given that the case rate appears to be massively higher than at other schools in the area, has the council identified any weaknesses in the Covid-19 precautions in place at Wheatfield Primary School?
“We have discussed the risk measures that the school has had in place and these are appropriate for a school of its size. The school operates a bubble system, has appropriate mechanisms in place for the start and end of the school day alongside cleaning and hygiene measures.”
Please provide a summary of how the council has responded to the developing situation in Bradley Stoke, stating whether any proactive testing of asymptomatic individuals has taken place. Also, what community engagement measures have been used in relation to the current situation in Bradley Stoke?
“In relation to the new rapid ‘lateral flow tests’, which can be used to help identify those people who are infectious but not showing symptoms, we have received some of these tests and we are running a pilot at SGS College. Currently no asymptomatic testing in Bradley Stoke has been done. The Council is working with and will continue to work with partners in local and national government, and the NHS to ensure that as larger-scale testing becomes increasingly available, we prioritise key staff and the most vulnerable in the community.”
“On top of our ongoing work to share the latest Covid-19 guidance across South Gloucestershire using weekly resident updates, our website, social media, the local press and radio, and campaigns in our town centres and high streets, we have extended our ‘Keep South Glos Safe’ campaign to communicate directly to Bradley Stoke residents using localised ‘Keep Bradley Stoke Safe’ signs, posters and leaflets. Our Covid engagement officers are also working across the area to help advise people of the latest guidance and will be handing out flyers. We are additionally sending advice and guidance to people in the area via local schools.”
“With regards to Wheatfield, there has been a daily call with the school to review the cases, the staffing position and to discuss next steps alongside discussions around the remote learning offer and how the needs of the most vulnerable pupils are being met.”
Data source for maps: https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/details/interactive-map
‘Help keep Bradley Stoke safe’
On Wednesday 16th December (two days after Wheatfield’s full-school ‘closure’), South Gloucestershire Council wrote to parents/carers of school- and nursery-aged children in the town urging them and their families to “follow the guidance and help keep Bradley Stoke safe”.
In the letter, Sara Blackmore (director of public health) and Chris Sivers (director of children, adults and health) write:
“There has been an increase in the number of new cases of Covid-19 in your area, particularly among school-age children, which has led to a high number of staff and children having to self-isolate and some schools moving to their remote learning offer for the remainder of term.”
“As you know, we are approaching the Christmas period when the government have stated there will be a relaxation of the current restrictions on household mixing. Given the higher rates of infection in your local area, it is particularly important that you and your family follow the guidance and help keep Bradley Stoke safe. This will not only prevent further infections in our area, but also elsewhere, especially as restrictions are relaxed between 23rd and 27th December.”
Read the letter in full on the Bradley Stoke Community School website [PDF]
More information and related links
Visit the Coronavirus (Covid-19) page on the South Gloucestershire Council website for the latest information on the council’s response, updates on services and support available.
- Council statement on South Glos remaining at Tier 3 Covid-19 alert level (South Glos Post, 17th December)
- Residents urged to “help keep Bradley Stoke safe” following surge in Covid-19 cases (The Journal, 21st December)
See also: What you can and cannot do in an area in Tier 3 of local restrictions (GOV.UK)
Discussion topic: Do you feel you have been kept sufficiently informed by South Gloucestershire Council about the current surge in Covid-19 cases in Bradley Stoke? Please share your views via the comments on this post.
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