Mass testing: what it's like as a teacher in Liverpool

Coronavirus mass testing in this Liverpool college has been revealing, says Kirsty Walker – many teachers who tested positive had no symptoms
15th November 2020, 9:00am

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Mass testing: what it's like as a teacher in Liverpool

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archive/mass-testing-what-its-teacher-liverpool
Covid Mass Testing: Reflections From Liverpool Teacher

In the last 13 years of teaching in Liverpool, I've been dragged into a number of local initiatives, the most memorable of which so far has been the Purple Boxes.

Liverpool City Council decided to give a large, purple plastic box of stationery to each student in a Liverpool postcode and, of course, I was drafted in to distribute these. The street value of the boxes was about £30: they included a USB stick as well as pads, pens, folders, and all contained in a 2x3ft box of hard plastic.

The problem was that not all students were in Liverpool postcodes, and immediately, there were angry turf wars with those from Halton, Sefton and the Wirral claiming direct discrimination.


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Many students took the USB stick and gave the rest back, so we had a black market of USB-less boxes that were snapped up by those who were unlucky enough to be excluded. The boxes were everywhere, abandoned and ransacked.

For the next two years, they haunted me, showing up in the back of a classroom or an old store cupboard, lurking there to bring those days flooding back.

Our college test centre

That was the strangest local strategy I had been a part of until 10 November, when I went to our college's individual Covid testing site and stuck a cotton bud up my nose in front of the army. 

I was just closing my emails when one came through saying our testing site would open the following day at 7.30am. It's at our newest centre, in the atrium where we usually hold conferences, exams, film screenings and enrolments. It was filled with foreboding black booths and definitely had an air of dystopia about it, despite the friendly and welcoming nature of the soldiers.

First, I had to fill in the government's registration form on my smartphone, before I was ushered into the testing room clutching a sheet full of bar codes and an NHS card.

The affable army man described to me the procedure and then I was in a booth trying to locate my tonsils using the world's smallest mirror. For the test to work you need to rub a swab on your tonsils for ten seconds, then stick the same swab up your nose and swirl it about.

I was convinced I had done it wrong and that I'd be back there the next day with my tail between my legs but lo and behold, half an hour later I had a text saying my test was negative.

I was slightly disappointed that I wouldn't be getting time off for my birthday, but also there is peace of mind knowing I'm not infecting students or colleagues while being asymptomatic, which is a huge problem. Many of the students and staff who have been off following a positive test have had no symptoms at all. 

Of course, with mass testing comes an increase in positive cases, so I'm expecting to have students and colleagues off sick over the next couple of weeks (our test centre is active until 16 November).

I have been encouraging everyone to go and get tested, and however uncomfortable it is to have a stick up my nose, it's better than handing out boxes of stationery to people who want you dead.

Kirsty Walker teaches at a college in the North West of England

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