Asking parents to take responsibility for testing their children regularly for Covid-19 is “fraught with difficulty” and a “huge ask”, the leader of the UK’s largest teaching union has said.
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), warned parents may not want to test their children at home as it could have implications for their paid work.
Her warning came after a health minister confirmed the Government is looking at how coronavirus testing of pupils could help the return to school.
Helen Whately said there is “work in progress” after being questioned about reports that parents of secondary school pupils could be asked to test their children at home twice a week.
When asked about the reports that families could be asked to use rapid coronavirus tests on their children when they are back in class, Dr Bousted told the PA news agency: “I think again that is fraught with difficulty as well because I think there’s been a big parental reaction to the notion that they’ve got to swab their children up their noses or down their throats.
“And of course lots of parents probably will not want to know if their child has got Covid because they will be asymptomatic and that has implications for them being able to work.
“I do think that’s a huge ask and if the Government is going to make that ask of parents – and if it’s going to make any asks to schools in terms of testing – it really has to be very clear about the science on which that is based, because otherwise it will be difficult to make it happen.”
Dr Bousted added that there are “so many challenges” about the accuracy of lateral flow tests that the Government will have to make it “very compelling” in its explanation about why schools and parents should invest their time and resources into doing this.
Education unions met with the Department for Education (DfE) officials on Thursday ahead of Boris Johnson’s announcement of the “road map” out of lockdown which is due next week.
Headteachers’ leaders have suggested the return of secondary school pupils may need to be staggered to allow students to be tested for Covid-19 as they arrive back in class.
Ms Whately told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There is work being done to look at how testing will help schools come back. But there will be more details set out about that next week.”
Asked about the Telegraph’s report that parents of secondary school pupils will be asked to administer rapid flow tests, Ms Whately said: “I’m not going to get drawn into that.
“There is work in progress looking at how testing can support schools to come back.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “It’s accepted that secondary school pupils might have to return in a slightly staggered way because of the logistics of mass testing.
“If they come back into the classroom all at the same time, they would have to be taken out of class for the tests to take place by which time they will have already mixed.
“So it would make more sense for them to be brought back into school in phases and tested as they return.”
Mr Barton said this idea was being discussed with the Government, but no final decision had yet been made about what will happen from March 8.
He added: “Beyond the initial testing phase, we have urged the Government to allow these Covid-19 tests to be done at home using home-testing kits in order to reduce the logistical burden on schools of running testing centres which is a very onerous expectation.”
Justine Roberts, founder and chief executive of Mumsnet, said parents are divided on whether they should have to test children twice a week at home.
She said some parents support the idea as it would take the burden off schools who already have “mammoth” cleaning duties and procedures to follow.
But she added: “Others are sceptical. Lateral flow tests aren’t the most reliable and there’s a danger a false negative could lead to a false sense of security.”
In other developments:
– The Prince of Wales has said it is a “tragedy” everyone is not benefiting from the Covid-19 vaccine during a conference aimed at encouraging take-up among minority communities.
– The number of people being prosecuted or handed out-of-court disposals fell by 22% in a year as the coronavirus pandemic took hold, official figures show.
– More surge testing is being introduced in England after a further discovery of the South African variant of Covid-19 has been found in Leeds.
Ms Whately also said she wants visits to care homes to be allowed before residents receive their second dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
She told Sky News: “I really, really want to open up visiting in care homes more.
“To be clear, we have made sure that visiting can continue even during this national lockdown but I recognise it’s not the normal kind of visiting – it’s having to use screens, or visiting pods, or through windows of care homes that don’t have those facilities.”
“I don’t see that we have to wait for the second vaccination dose, I want us to open up sooner than that,” she added.
Meanwhile, major research showed lockdown measures are significantly driving down infection levels across the nation, but that they remain high and at similar levels to those observed in late September.
Imperial College London’s React study, which tested more than 85,000 people in England between February 4 and 13, suggested infections have dropped to just one in 200 people.