BBC probe destroys claim teachers more likely to get Covid

BBC probe destroys claim teachers more likely to get Covid

February 7, 2021

BBC fact-checking probe destroys a trade union’s claim that teachers are ‘far more likely’ to be infected by Covid

  • BBC fact-checking probe disproved claims teachers more likely to get Covid-19
  • NASUWT research claimed teacher infection rates were 333 per cent more likely
  • Figure used by union to claim teachers to justify school closures in pandemic 

A BBC fact-checking probe has demolished trade union claims that teachers are ‘far more likely’ to be infected by Covid-19.

Research by the NASUWT union supposedly showed infection rates for teachers were 333 per cent higher than the general population.

The figure was used by the union to claim teachers were at ‘significantly higher risk of infection’ and justify school closures.

The research was handed exclusively to the Times Education Supplement (TES), which reported on January 5 – the day after Boris Johnson announced the current lockdown – that teacher infections were ‘far outstripping local rates’.

A BBC fact-checking probe has demolished trade union claims that teachers are ‘far more likely’ to be infected by Covid-19 (stock image)

The finding was based on data from just three councils – Leeds, Birmingham and Greenwich in South-East London. 

In Leeds, the Covid rate for secondary school staff from the week ending October 19 to November 20 was said to be 333 per cent higher than that of the wider population – more than four times. 

In Birmingham it was said to be more than three times the local average, while in Greenwich it appeared to be twice as high.

The NASUWT tweeted: ‘Despite assertions by Ministers and the PM it is clear from the data that staff in schools are at a greatly increased risk of contracting the virus compared to the whole community.’

But the research has been pulled apart by BBC Radio 4’s More Or Less, presented by economist and statistician Tim Harford. It said the figures were not based on confirmed positive results but on ‘self-reporting’ – including those off sick with what they thought was Covid.

Research by the NASUWT union supposedly showed infection rates for teachers were 333 per cent higher than the general population. The figure was used by the union to claim teachers were at ‘significantly higher risk of infection’ and justify school closures (stock image)

It also cited Office for National Statistics data showing that while secondary school teachers were ‘at slightly more risk’ of dying from Covid, ‘the teaching profession as a whole was less at risk of death than the working age average’. 

Mr Harford said there were ‘definitely problems’ with the union data.

The councils also distanced themselves from the research. Leeds said its figures might include some double-counting, Birmingham said it did not recognise the figures in the TES report, and Greenwich said it did not know how the rates reported by NASUWT were calculated.

The NASUWT said: ‘Self-reporting and double-counting cannot account for the significantly higher rates seen.’ It added that the same pattern of higher rates among teachers was seen in Scotland, which uses confirmed positive results.

The TES said it reported the union’s figures accurately.

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