Schools carrying out Covid tests ‘inevitably’ means disruption to start of term

Secondary schools and colleges carrying out coronavirus testing “inevitably” means students will face some disruption during the first week of term, a leader of a headteachers’ union has said.

Department for Education (DfE) guidance states that secondary school pupils in England should be tested twice on site on their return in the autumn term, with lateral flow device tests carried out between three and five days apart.

It adds that secondary schools and colleges can “stagger” the return of pupils across the first week to manage the Covid-19 testing process.

The Labour Party has written to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson urging him to immediately clarify the implications for learning after the average pupil missed 115 days in school during the pandemic.

It warns that recent reports suggesting that the return to school could be delayed for pupils has created uncertainty and confusion for families with less than a fortnight to go until the start of term.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), has warned that “disruption” at the start of term is inevitable.

He said: “The Government has asked secondary schools and colleges to provide on-site asymptomatic coronavirus testing at the start of the autumn term.

“The Government advice to secondary schools and colleges is that they may commence testing from three working days before the start of term and can stagger the return of pupils across the first week to manage this. That will inevitably mean some disruption during the first week of the new term.”

Mr Barton added: “The testing programme is a very significant logistical exercise and we have repeatedly urged the Government to provide schools and colleges with more practical support in delivering these tests.”

Shadow education secretary Kate Green has claimed that Mr Williamson’s “constant disregard” for parents’ need to plan ahead, manage childcare and prepare for the return to school has been “staggering”.

In a letter to the Education Secretary, she asked: “Are schools expected to provide remote teaching or learning materials during the period when testing is being carried out for pupils not in school?

“Why are these plans only being discussed now, with less than 10 days until the first schools are due to return for the beginning of the new school year?

“Once again, your delayed planning and chaotic decision-making risks creating havoc for families and will put additional pressure on school staff planning for the start of the new year.”

Ms Green has also urged Mr Williamson to provide certainty around ventilation in schools and explain why the Government has only just announced provision of carbon dioxide monitors for schools.

On Saturday, the DfE said a £25 million investment will go towards rolling out around 300,000 carbon dioxide monitors across education settings in England from September to help staff tackle poor ventilation.

Ms Green added: “The Conservatives’ chaotic, last-minute approach is damaging children’s education.

“Parents would rightly expect ministers to have learnt from their mistakes over the last year, but once again families are being treated as an afterthought.

“After two years of disrupted education, each day in school matters. The Conservatives’ systematic refusal to plan ahead is just not good enough. Labour is demanding better for our children’s futures.”