'Absolutely fine’ for heads to work Christmas - Hancock

Warning that the planning for mass Covid testing in schools will mean school leaders working on Christmas Day
20th December 2020, 11:59am
Claudia Civinini


'Absolutely fine’ for heads to work Christmas - Hancock

Coronavirus Mass Testing In Schools: It's 'absolutely Fine' For School Leaders To Prepare Over The Christmas Holidays, Says Health Secretary Matt Hancock

It is "absolutely fine" that school leaders face working over Christmas to prepare for the rollout of Covid mass testing in schools, the health secretary has asserted today.

Speaking on the BBC's The Andrew Marr Show today, Matt Hancock responded to fears that the last-minute testing regime plan for schools -  defined as "inoperable" by unions - will be impossible to deliver at such short notice. 

Mr Hancock said: "There are three weeks between now and the start of term, and I appreciate that, like so many people in the NHS, there is going to have to be some work over the Christmas break and that's absolutely fine.

"There are headteachers all over the country desperate to do their part, to get as much education as is possible and to do it safely and so, of course, in a massive system like the school system you can always find somebody who is going to complain." 

Covid: Secondary teachers tested weekly from January

Mass testing: Army to help schools set up extra Covid testing sites

CoronavirusLack of clarity on term start is 'ludicrous', DfE told

ExclusiveDfE considers delaying the start of term

Mr Hancock made his comments as Sam Henson, director of policy and information at the National Governance Association (NGA), said more detail was needed by teachers on how new coronavirus testing systems would be implemented in schools in the new year.

Coronavirus: 'Eleventh-hour' announcement about mass testing in schools

The government announced that secondary school and college students' return to class in England will be staggered in the first week of January to help schools roll-out mass testing of students.

Schools minister Nick Gibb has said the tests will be administered by volunteers and agency staff, and details will be published next week.

Speaking to BBC's Breakfast on Saturday, Mr Henson said teachers were "told at the 11th hour that they are going to have to deliver on something that they don't have the detail for.

"What we're going to end up with is headteachers and school leaders across the country working on Christmas Day and Boxing Day to put these plans in place."

On Friday, the NGA, a membership organisation for governors, trustees and clerks of state schools in England, joined education unions and other professional associations in advising secondary schools and colleges that they should not be forced to set up mass testing of students in January if they are unable to.

The guidance said: "Many of our organisations have been actively calling for such tests for some time.

"However, it is our view that, due to the chaotic and rushed nature of this announcement, the lack of proper guidance and an absence of appropriate support, the government's plan in its current form will be inoperable for most schools and colleges."

Mr Henson said the responsibility for the Covid testing systems put a "huge degree of pressure" on school leaders.

"We all want this, that's not under question," he added.

"I'm worried about the perception that this announcement has created. We've ended up in a situation where the public are led to believe schools have been told they have to do this and they're being resourced to do this.

"We need to get the facts clear."

According to a Department for Education blogpost published on Thursday, armed forces personnel will support schools and colleges in planning the creation of testing sites.

It said schools and colleges will be provided with equipment to deliver testing, while the "reasonable workforce costs of state-funded schools, incurred to help set up and administer the testing, will be reimbursed".

A DfE spokesperson previously said that asymptomatic testing will break chains of virus transmission, help pupils and teachers avoid the need to self-isolate, and reassure parents about returning their children to school for the spring term.

They added: "We do not underestimate the challenges involved and scale of delivering this, which is why a cross-government operation is being mobilised to support schools and colleges."

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Register for free to read more

You can read two more articles on Tes for free this month if you register using the button below.

Alternatively, you can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters

Already registered? Log in

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Subscribe to read more

You can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters