Mass school testing plan still not operable, warn heads

Despite extra week for schools to set up testing, it is still 'a massive logistical task without adequate support'
31st December 2020, 3:07pm

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Mass school testing plan still not operable, warn heads

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/mass-school-testing-plan-still-not-operable-warn-heads
Mass Testing

Despite the fact that more delays in pupils returning after the Christmas break have given secondary schools an extra week to prepare for mass testing, heads say they are still concerned that the task is "not operable" for many schools and colleges.

The warning follows a joint letter from teaching unions sent to the Department for Education just before Christmas in which they said schools should not be forced to engage with the testing plan, which they say was "rushed" out with "lack of proper guidance and an absence of appropriate support".

Today, despite new guidance for schools stating that the first secondary pupils will not now return until 11 January (instead of this Monday), the Association of School and College Leaders said there was still an "incredibly short timeframe" in which to make the mass-testing preparations.


Read: Schools backed to refuse 'inoperable' mass testing plan

In full: New delayed January school opening dates

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


Schools will now have a week from 4 January to set-up testing sites, and will receive up to 1,000 starter test kits on Monday, according to the DfE. They will also be provided with further information and support including a handbook, a how-to guide, a cost-estimate calculator and online staff training modules, the DfE said.

Remote support from 1,500 military personnel will be provided to help with set-up, with teams available to be deployed to schools if required, the government said.

ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton said: "The extra week to roll out Covid testing is a slight improvement on the ludicrous plan unveiled by the government before Christmas to start mass testing from 4 January. However, it is still an incredibly short timeframe in which to recruit and train large numbers of staff, set up testing centres, and communicate the arrangements to pupils and parents. We remain concerned that this will not be operable for many schools and colleges and that the government has dumped a massive logistical task on them without adequate support."

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said "serious questions" had to be asked about the readiness of schools and colleges to be able to get a system in place by 11 January. He said: "There are also questions about the effectiveness of these tests in identifying Covid infection in young people who are highly likely to be asymptomatic, with the tests being supervised by non medically trained volunteers. We do not think it likely that these tests alone can make our schools Covid secure nor protect the communities they serve."

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT heads' union, said: "The delays announced by the secretary of state do at least show that the government now agrees with us that more time is needed to deliver mass testing."

He added: "It is not clear that the government knows how many staff and volunteers will be needed to deliver mass testing safely and effectively."

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