Plans to roll out mass testing in schools ‘inoperable’

HEADTEACHERS and union members have said plans to mass test pupils in January will be inoperable after the proposals were announced on the day before the end of term.

Schools North East, which represent 1,150 schools in the region, said “exhausted” staff needed a proper break over Christmas, and called for the Government to provide the resources necessary to carry out the testing.

Education unions have also written to headteachers to say they will receive their full support if they decide they cannot carry out tests at the start of term.

On Thursday, the Government announced secondary school and college pupils’ return to class in England will be staggered to help schools roll out mass testing of students.

Director of Schools North East Chris Zarraga said “Our school staff are exhausted after the longest and most difficult year on record and desperately need the time to recharge and rest before the spring term begins.

“However, this announcement means that substantial planning and preparation will need to be done over the holiday period before term starts in January.

“Furthermore, the burden of testing cannot fall on school staff or on a non-existent ‘volunteer army’.

“Our schools need to be properly supported by other agencies, especially the NHS with this if it is to work and not further exhaust already over-stretched staff.”

Andy Byers, headteacher of Framwellgate School, Durham, said he was “angered” by the announcement and said he refused to have staff working over the holidays to implement the plans.

He said: “As you can imagine, we have had no time to even think about this and I refuse to have any staff working and planning during the Christmas holidays.

“We will return to this issue in January and more information will be forthcoming then.

“We will do our best to make testing work within the constraints we have.”

Schools minister Nick Gibb said the tests will be administered by volunteers and agency staff and details will be published next week.

Education unions and professional associations have jointly warned that testing in secondary schools will not be ready at the start of January.

A statement issued by the NAHT school leaders’ union, the Association of School and College Leaders, the National Education Union, the NASUWT teachers’ union, the Association of Colleges, the National Governance Association and the Church of England Education Office, said: “Many of our organisations have been actively calling for such tests for some time.

“However, it is our view that due to the chaotic and rushed nature of this announcement, the lack of proper guidance, and an absence of appropriate support, the Government’s plan in its current form will be inoperable for most schools and colleges.”

“Schools and colleges simply do not have the staffing capacity to carry this out themselves.

“As such, most will not be in a position to carry this out in a safe and effective manner.”

The Northern region of the NEU said it was “staggered” by the proposals.

Regional secretary Mike McDonald said: “The government is expecting secondary school leaders to contact, train and deploy an army of volunteers to administer testing to the whole of the Northern region’s secondary school population.

“Armed with a 30-minute training video they are being asked to administer tests to adolescents – who may have their own views about what is quite an invasive procedure.

“Parents will be required to give their consent to their children being tested. They will have to be contacted – in itself, a huge task.

“The presence of year 11 and 13 pupils on the school site at the same time as the testing arrangements and procedures are being put in place will be extremely problematic. It is highly likely that these pupils will return from their Christmas holiday with higher levels of Covid-19 infection.

“Those who test positive will be required to isolate, which involves a huge amount of school staff taking the time to contact parents and to trace close contacts.

“Yet again government ministers fail to understand the fundamental issues involved, and the effort, training, and time it takes to operate covid security procedures in schools. It is simply, once again, another Government reaction not fit for purpose.”

The Northern Echo | Teesside