Making schools into 'field hospitals' may be 'too much'

Heads question whether schools will be able find the staff, time or space to carry out mass Covid testing next year
16th December 2020, 6:53pm
John Roberts

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Making schools into 'field hospitals' may be 'too much'

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/making-schools-field-hospitals-may-be-too-much
Coronavirus: Headteachers Have Warned That New Plans To Roll-out Covid Testing Will Turn Schools Into 'field Hospitals'

Government plans to turn schools into "field hospitals" by giving them new responsibilities for administering mass Covid tests from January could be "too much" for stretched staff, a leading headteacher has warned.

Schools have been told they will need to train staff, allocate people to seven different roles and set up testing sites to support the rollout of Covid-19 testing in secondaries from the new year.

Secondary staff will be eligible for weekly tests, and staff and students can be tested daily for seven days if they are identified as having been in contact with someone who has tested positive.


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But teachers and unions have questioned whether schools will be able to carry out the extra duties being asked of them. 

A headteachers' union has warned that school leaders have reacted both angrily and wearily to new information about how the testing regime will work, which some schools received from the government yesterday.

Richard Sheriff, president of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: "Considering the enormous, worrying and complex task of turning our schools into field hospitals to carry out mass testing in January, I worry that schools are being asked to do too much when just staying open is a huge struggle."

Considering the enormous, worrying and complex task of turning our schools into field hospitals to carry out mass testing in January. I worry that schools are being asked to do too much when just staying open is a huge struggle.

- ASCL President (@asclpresident) December 16, 2020

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, told Tes that it was another example of education staff being asked to carry out public health work.

She said: "It is great that this testing of staff and pupils is coming to schools next year, but schools have to be supported to be able do this.

Coronavirus: Mass testing could be 'an enormous burden' for schools

"Expecting schools to test staff once a week and carry out daily tests of any pupils who have come into contact with a Covid case is creating an enormous burden.

"If a school has two year group 'bubbles' which would normally be stood down, that would mean a school administering 480 tests a day on top of weekly testing of staff. It is difficult to imagine that a school can find the time and the staff to do this when they are already on their knees and likely to be having staff off in the new year because on an increase in the virus after Christmas."

She also warned that creating a suitable testing site might be difficult for smaller schools.

An NHS school and colleges handbook tells schools how to set up a testing site and also identifies seven roles which the school will need to appoint people to.

The roles are 

  • Team leader
  • Test assistant
  • Processor
  • Covid-19 coordinator
  • Registration assistant
  • Results recorder
  • Cleaner

The guidance says that more than one role can be taken by one person.

The handbook also says that schools and colleges may want to identify existing staff to support testing, "or it may be that additional workforce will be required".

It adds that "reasonable costs for additional workforce will be reimbursed" but does not provide more information.

Dr Bousted added: "The information sent to schools makes a vague mention that schools can be reimbursed for the extra staff they need to take on but they absolutely need to make clear how this will work.

"Headteachers who thought they would be done with track and tracing on 23 December are now going to be spending the second half of the break working out how they are going to do all of this."

Geoff Barton, ASCL's general secretary said: "We've had a number of responses from members about the government's rapid testing announcement, ranging from very angry to simply weary, and we'll be taking the feedback to the Department for Education and asking a series of questions.

"We'll also be reinforcing the point that we have already made that the timing of the announcement right at the end of term was far from being ideal.

"We'll be asking for more detail about how schools are expected to have the capacity and expertise to do this, exactly what financial and other support will be provided, and clearer messaging about what 'from January' means to explicitly state that schools are not being asked to start this from the beginning of term.

"We think the availability of these tests will ultimately be a positive step in reducing the disruption affecting schools and colleges.

"However, the government's communication of this has left a great deal to be desired and, as ever, there is a gap between the theory and turning that into reality in a school or college."

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