Coronavirus: Why we're doing mass testing on campus

Newcastle Sixth Form College is taking part in a mass testing pilot – here NCG chief executive Liz Bromley sets out why
23rd November 2020, 4:35pm


Coronavirus: Why we're doing mass testing on campus
Colleges Reopening: How Will Rapid Covid Testing Work In Fe Colleges?

Never assume that you can honestly plan for the day, the week or even the month ahead. At the point when I was reflecting that things were reasonably calm, pretty well under control, sort of settling down, the phone rang. And that was the call in which I was asked if one of NCG's seven colleges would be able to participate in the first pilot of mass testing to happen outside of Liverpool. Oh!

I hesitated just for a split second. Was it really right to put further pressure on staff and students after we had already been through so much?  Surely another college could take the strain?

I also thought about the Covid experience, both within our fantastic collection of seven colleges and, indeed, nationwide. From the start of the first lockdown, our colleges have scaled mountains to keep the show on the road, and continue to give learners the education and support they so desperately need, and that we are required to offer despite the challenges of social distancing and ensuring that we are health and safety compliant.

Being part of a strong network of colleges - all independent but all sharing the experience and falling back on the wider family - was a huge asset. We've also worked with our external partners, as well as vital back office and support colleagues, to find solutions to problems, and even seizing new opportunities. This has been the same across the sector and across the nation. Everyone has played their part. In that spirit, I quickly concluded that it was quite simply the right thing to do.

Background: Mass testing: What it's like as a teacher in Liverpool?

News: College leaders and staff call for mass Covid testing

Need to know: Two in three teachers have colleagues with Covid symptoms

Since then I've been struck yet again by the dedication not just of our colleagues at Newcastle Sixth Form College who are running the pilot, but also those partners from the Department of Health and Social Care, the Department for Education and the Army (who are delivering the tests on campus) in meeting the challenge and fighting this pandemic.

Coronavirus: Why our college joined mass testing pilot

  • Our students are the beating heart of everything we do at NCG. Creating the safest possible space within the college for all students to continue their studies is the most important thing we can do at this time.
  • Using the latest available technology and innovation in teaching practice, we can ensure that all of our students gain the best support to access their education. This means they can stay at college with confidence and the reassurance that accurate mass testing can deliver. This is especially vital for the students from those many families who can ill afford to miss the critical educational and emotional support we provide.
  • To assist in the national effort to identify just one of the ways we can move forward nationally and reduce and remove some of the current restrictions on education establishments. 

That last point is the one that I hope will continue to resonate as we (perhaps) start to contemplate a better start to 2021. Much has been made of the role FE must play in the adjusted future we might envisage (doubly so in light of the government's desire to "level up" post-Brexit). The recent Commission on the College of the Future explored some of these themes. But if there was ever any doubt that colleges, like other arms of the public, private and voluntary sectors, can meet this or any other challenge alone, then last week's events at NSFC have proved otherwise. As we go forward, we all need to get better at working and engaging with our partners. We really are all in this together.

We begin the testing next week. We are making plans to support our students in the event of them testing positive. We fully expect our students - as they have done so far - to take all of these developments in their stride.

Testing will continue at NSFC for several weeks and we will continue to monitor results and do everything we can to support our staff, students and parents. 

I honestly feel some relief and a great deal of pride that we made the right call and that the brilliant actions of our colleagues and partners ensured that it worked. Together we can do fantastic things in our communities. Onwards!

Liz Bromley is chief executive of college group NCG


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