'1.5K troops doing webinars' not enough to help schools

Heads react to news that forces will offer coronavirus testing support 'predominantly through webinars and individual meetings'

Amy Gibbons

Soldiers

The government's plan for the military to help schools with Covid-19 testing likely falls short of what is needed, heads have warned.

This morning the Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced that military teams were being prepared to go into schools and colleges "at short notice" to help on the ground when mass Covid-19 testing begins next term.

The Department for Education (DfE) and the Department for Health are being offered 1,500 military staff to "ensure that students and staff can return as safely as possible to secondary schools and colleges across England", the MoD said.


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But, while local response teams will be "on standby to deploy at short notice to provide in-person support", soldiers will offer help with testing "predominantly through webinars and individual meetings", the government said.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), warned this was unlikely to be enough.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, he said: "We're educationists, we can support the government and it is good we are going to have some members of the Army.

"But for 3,500 secondary schools, 1,500 troops doing webinars probably isn't the government response that we were looking for."

A scientist has described ministers' school Covid strategy as "scary stuff". And a teaching union has warned the testing is a "recipe for disaster" that could actually trigger more school Covid outbreaks because it may fail to pick up infectious pupils who will then stay in class because they've been tested.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said this morning: "It is a true cross-government effort to make sure secondary schools and colleges have the support, guidance, materials and funding they need to offer rapid testing to their staff and students from the start of term.

"I am grateful to the armed forces personnel, and all the school and college staff, leaders and volunteers working to put testing in place. This will help break chains of transmission, fight the virus, and help deliver the national priority of keeping education open for all."

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Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @tweetsbyames

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