Headteachers who believe protests could be held outside their school over participation in the Covid vaccination programme should contact police to help manage the situation, guidance suggests.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said it is aware some schools have been receiving campaign letters and emails with “misinformation” about the vaccine programme, after ministers confirmed children aged 12 to 15 will be able to get a first jab from next week.
Three million youngsters across the UK will be eligible, and the programme is expected to be delivered primarily within schools.
In new guidance, the agency said it knows of schools seeking advice on how to handle protests, and suggests they get in touch with the School Age Immunisation Service (SAIS) team at the “first opportunity” to understand “what security planning they have in place”.
“In the event of a protest or disruptive activity outside a school, or if schools know a protest is planned, they should alert the SAIS provider, local authority and police contacts to discuss the best way to manage the situation,” the guidance added.
Heads and teachers have also been advised “not to engage directly” with misinformation campaigns about the vaccine, but should “acknowledge receipt of concerns” and “refer to the latest scientific guidance on the issue” if necessary.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), has called on pressure groups to stop sending letters “threatening” legal action if schools or colleges take part in a Covid-19 vaccination programme, and urged them against staging protests.
He said: “The guidance is absolutely clear that schools are not responsible for mediating between parents and children who may disagree about whether or not to consent. This is the role of registered nurses in the School Age Immunisation Service.
“We are very concerned about the possibility of protests being held outside schools, and we are pleased to see that the guidance references this and provides advice about how to respond to this threat.
“Frankly, however, it is a sorry state of affairs if any individuals or groups think it is helpful in any way to stage a protest outside a school over a vaccine programme which is designed to help reduce educational disruption and which seems to us to be in the best interests of children and young people.
“We implore people not to stage such protests.”
The guidance confirms that children who are 12 or over on the day the SAIS team visits a school will be offered a vaccination as part of the programme.
The vaccines will be administered by healthcare staff working with the school and following the usual approach to school-based immunisation.
The advice added: “For those aged 12 to 15 years consent will be sought by the SAIS provider from the parent or person with parental responsibility in the same way as for any other school vaccination programme.”
A consent form and information leaflet provided by the SAIS team will be used to seek parental consent and parents will be provided with a contact number in case of any queries.
The guidance said: “In secondary schools, some older children may be sufficiently mature to provide their own consent.
“This sometimes occurs if a parent has not returned a consent form but the child still wishes to have the vaccine on the day of the session.
“Every effort will be made to contact the parent to seek their verbal consent. The school has no role in this process.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “We are pleased to see that the Government has made it very clear that whilst vaccination teams might make use of school buildings, the responsibility, including legal responsibility, for delivering jabs will sit entirely with the appropriate medical teams.
“This should help keep disruption in schools to a minimum.
“It’s very important that parents can now direct any questions or concerns to the vaccination teams via the channels provided. It is vital that school leaders can focus on the education of pupils.”