School Covid testing needs 8 times the staff predicted

Biggest schools will need 24 people working on mass testing, reveal latest plans labelled 'ludicrous' by heads
23rd December 2020, 5:28pm
John Roberts


School Covid testing needs 8 times the staff predicted
Coronavirus: Schools May Need Up To Eight Times More People Involved In Covid Testing Than A Minister Suggested This Morning

Schools will need up to eight times more staff working on Covid testing than a government minister had predicted, new guidance reveals.

Communities secretary Robert Jenrick said earlier today that schools could need up to three people involved for its plan for rapid testing in the new year, depending on how large the school is.

But guidance published by the Department for Education this afternoon says that larger secondary schools with more than 2,000 students and staff would need 24 people working on mass testing. 

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Appearing on Good Morning Britain, Mr Jenrick had said: "[Headteachers and teachers] will have the support they need. They will be given sufficient tests.

"It is not quite as burdensome as some have said. It will require one or two or perhaps three people to be involved, depending on how large the school is."

Coronavirus: 'Half-baked' mass testing plan for schools

However, updated guidance published this afternoon indicates that larger secondary schools will need 24 people working on the tests, while those with around 1,000 staff and pupils will need around 13 members of staff.

'We want to get all schools back in January.'

Housing Secretary @RobertJenrick responds to questions about whether the reopening of schools should be delayed as Covid cases rise.

He says further information will be made available in the coming days.

- Good Morning Britain (@GMB) December 23, 2020

The new guidance also says that £78 million in funding is available to schools and colleges, to be paid retrospectively.

It says that mainstream secondary schools outside London with 2,000 pupils and staff will receive approximately £28,000. 

New guidance suggests large secondary school will need 24 people working on mass testing.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, has accused the Department for Education of operating in a "parallel universe". 

"The government's updated guidance on rapid Covid tests doesn't take us much further forward because it ignores the fact that this plan and timescale are totally unrealistic," he said.

"It is frankly ludicrous to think that schools and colleges will be able to recruit and train the workforce needed to carry out this testing programme in the 11 days before term is due to begin on 4 January, particularly as it is the Christmas holiday period.

"The guidance gives an illustrative example of a secondary school with 1,000 pupils and staff needing 13 people working on mass testing. How on earth are schools and colleges supposed to have such workforces in place by the first week of the new term?

"The government seems to be stuck in some sort of parallel universe in which it cannot grasp the huge scale of the task it is asking schools and colleges to carry out.

"Schools and colleges are very keen for rapid Covid tests to be available to staff and students, but the government's half-baked plan is simply not deliverable."

The DfE has said previously that "the expectation is that in the majority of cases support staff, such as school nurses, will administer the tests". 

School standards minister Nick Gibb has also suggested that schools could recruit volunteers to support the testing.

The DfE said today that the first deliveries of up to 1,000 starter test kits, with tests and personal protective equipment, will arrive at every secondary school and college on 4 January so that they are ready to start testing as soon as possible, with further replenishment deliveries throughout the week.

The DfE also said that testing is important because staff and students without symptoms could still carry the virus and may spread it to many others.

It added that since schools and colleges are a key part of the community, it wanted to break the chains of transmission and help to reduce the risk as far as possible.

On top of the mass testing of secondary school and college students at the start of term, the DfE is also planning to use lateral flow tests to carry out weekly testing of secondary school teachers and staff and daily tests for seven days for anyone who has come into close contact with a confirmed Covid case.  

The plan is to allow people to stay in school if the tests remain negative rather than them having to self-isolate.

However, there are mounting concerns that the lateral flow tests are unreliable and will result in people remaining in school with Covid because of false negative results.

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