Heads’ ‘chaos’ warning on September school testing plan

ASCL leader Geoff Barton criticises Department for Education over ‘vague’ message to schools on the return of Covid testing sites

John Roberts

Heads warn that the government appears to be in chaos again over the handing of the Covid pandemic in schools.

Heads are concerned that the Department for Education’s handling of the Covid pandemic is “in chaos again” after schools were told to prepare to run coronavirus testing sites in September “without any consultation”.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, strongly criticised the department over an email sent to schools telling them to be ready for the need to set up asymptomatic Covid testing sites from September.

He said: “It is completely unacceptable for the Department for Education to tell schools and colleges, without any consultation and in the vaguest terms, that they may have to set up something akin to field hospitals at the start of next term.

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“There appears to be no understanding of the scale of the logistical challenge involved in setting up on-site Covid testing and processing hundreds or thousands of pupils. 

“It is extraordinary that the DfE thinks it is OK to give secondary schools and colleges the invidious choice of asking pupils to attend for testing before the start of term, or staggering their return during the first week, which will cause more educational disruption

Mr Barton said ASCL understood that the intention is that schools and colleges would be asked to test every pupil twice in on-site stations.

He added: “However, this is not explained in yesterday’s communication, and neither is the apparent plan to then replace self-isolation of close contacts of positive Covid cases with daily contact testing next term, which was flagged up separately by the new health secretary yesterday. 

“It is essential that there is a coherent and robust plan in place to minimise educational disruption next term and that this is communicated clearly ahead of the end of this term, which is approaching rapidly.

“We are increasingly concerned that the government is, once again, in chaos over its handling of education policy in the pandemic and it must get a grip.”

Tes reported earlier this month that schools had been told by the Department for Education to prepare for the return of Covid testing sites.

This was contained in an updated framework for managing Covid in schools. Leaders have also been told to have contingency plans for restricting attendance in case this is needed to manage Covid in their area.

The latest email from the department, sent yesterday, said: “We want to help education settings to be prepared for all scenarios, including testing on return after the summer holidays.

“We will provide all schools and colleges with refreshed guidance, test kits, and personal protective equipment, so that you can be ready to stand up on-site asymptomatic test sites from the start of the autumn term. We expect to be able to confirm the position alongside announcements on Step 4. 

“Given the uncertainties about the Covid situation we will face in the autumn, we want to help secondary schools and colleges to be as prepared as possible for all scenarios, including testing on return after the summer holidays, if needed.

“Schools and colleges may choose to start testing students and pupils no earlier than three days before the start of term, or stagger the return of pupils during the first week of term if they would like to do so. This is voluntary and at the discretion of each school and college. 

“Test kits for ATS will be delivered from Tuesday 29 June to Friday 23 July. There is no need for you to make separate orders for this.”

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John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

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