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Sunday, October 1, 2023

English school calls off Gambian teachers visit over Ebola fears


The visit at Raysfield Infant School in Chipping Sodbury, which was due to take place on Monday, involved an exchange visit by teachers from The Gambia and had been planned for months.

The school took advice from public health authorities, who assured them there were no risks at all.

But parent power and claims that children would be kept away from classes if the visit went ahead appear to have forced the school into a dramatic rethink.

Even though The Gambia is almost 500 miles from the nearest reported Ebola case, some parents threatened to keep their children at home if the visit went ahead.

Raysfield Infant School has been involved in a teacher exchange for some time and last year a group of Gambian teachers visited. Last week a group of parents with children at the school contacted headteacher Alison Wood to raise their concerns.

Parents were sent a letter from the school to say the visit would go ahead, as the health risks were “very low”. But that was not enough to calm fears among parents.

A meeting was due to be held at the school yesterday morning, where Mrs Wood was due to talk to parents about the visit but a text was sent out to parents saying that it had been called off due to the fears surrounding Ebola.

The school have said the trip has been postponed and will be rearranged for another date in the future.

In a statement released yesterday, Mrs Wood said: “Since August I have been in contact with Public Health England, who have reassured me that there were no reasons to cancel the planned trip from the Gambian teachers on the grounds of safety.

“Over the last six years, we have developed strong ties with The Gambia and the exchange trip has provided a rich educational experience for all.

“However the level of concern from some parents about the planned trip has prompted Kristina Lundahl, director of education from The Future in our Hands in The Gambia, to postpone the trip.

“The last visit to Raysfield was such a fantastic experience for both the children of Raysfield and the Gambian teachers but, even though it is safe to travel, she wouldn’t want the trip to be overshadowed by the concerns.

“The wonderful links that Raysfield Infants’ has with The Gambia will continue and possibly be strengthened by the decision to postpone. Having met with parents today they are definitely supportive of a future trip.”

Parents were reluctant to talk about the cancelled visit yesterday but most said they were happy with the decision.

One said: “It is something that the parents have been talking about for the last week and I am glad that they have called off the visit. I don’t think I would have been happy to let my childrengo into school if the teachers were there.”

Another said: “I am not sure if there was a risk but a lot of the parents were unhappy. I would have gone with the majority and I think I would have kept the kids off school.”

A woman whose grandchildren are at the school said: “I think they made the right decision. Even if there was no health threat, people were worried.”

Dr Paul Cosford, director for health protection and medical director at Public Health England, said: “People infected with Ebola can only spread the virus to other people once they have developed symptoms, such as a fever. Even if someone has symptoms, the virus is only transmitted by direct contact with the blood or body fluids of an infected person.

“We have been working with the international community and local health authorities to ensure robust exit screening remains in place at airports in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, which will pick up anyone who is symptomatic before they leave these countries.

“Although no system can completely prevent a case of Ebola coming into the UK, enhanced screening in high volume ports of entry will ensure that individuals at risk know exactly what to do if they start feeling ill, and can receive the expert advice they need immediately.

“Overall the risk of Ebola in the UK remains low, and we have a world-class domestic health system that is ready to respond if we do see a case in the UK.”


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