College leaders and staff have called for mass testing to be rolled out across the further education sector to help deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
This comes as colleges continue to deliver face-to-face teaching at English colleges during the nation’s lockdown and infection rates across the UK continue to be high.
A mass testing pilot began in Liverpool earlier this month, and included test sites on college campuses. It is now hoped this will be rolled out across the country to ensure staff and students who are asymptomatic but do carry the virus can be identified.
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Eddie Playfair, senior policy manager at the Association of Colleges, said regular routine testing in colleges would help to reassure staff and students so they can be even more confident about attending college.
He said: “We know that while transmission and infection are much lower in children, teenagers and young adults play a larger role. Too often, colleges are categorised as a type of secondary school – however, we need to distinguish between different types of education settings which have different characteristics.
“Colleges have large cohorts of 16- to 18-year-olds and adults in their campuses, and most students are living at home, some in multi-generational households. This means colleges face a different set of challenges to schools and universities. Now effective and affordable testing can be rolled out, extending this to further education colleges would help support college leaders in keeping students and staff safe.”
Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, said testing should be part of a wider support package for FE.
She said: “We welcome any action that improves the safety of college students and staff. For too long, further education has been ignored as funding has been cut, and pay has stagnated. A nationwide rollout of mass-testing must be part of a fully funded support package for staff and students.
“Staff will always do their utmost to help students and have worked incredibly hard to support them during the pandemic. They must now be given the pay rise they deserve. Ministers spent the summer talking up further education as part of the levelling up agenda, and college management and the government now need to walk the walk on staff safety and pay.”
UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: "Mass testing is key to beating the virus. Extending the availability of community testing to everyone – including further education staff and students – would help stop infection spread and increase the chances of saving Christmas."
Earlier this week, Scotland's minister for FE, HE and science Richard Lochhead told the Scottish parliament's education committee universities would be part of an asymptomatic testing programme, with colleges involved "where that is appropriate".