Teenagers are likely to be fed up with taking Covid-19 tests twice a week but parents should encourage them to do so to enable greater “freedoms”, an executive headteacher has said.
Andrew Truby, who runs two primary schools in Sheffield and one in Rotherham, has urged youngsters to get tested to stop coronavirus spreading and minimise disruption to lessons in the autumn term.
It came as ministers launched a campaign, backed by an Olympic champion and a TV doctor, to persuade returning secondary school students to take part in voluntary asymptomatic Covid-19 testing.
A school leaders’ union has warned that the take-up of twice weekly testing at home has been “patchy” despite efforts by school staff.
Mr Truby told the PA news agency: “I imagine that teenagers might be fed up of testing twice a week, but I think parents can really encourage them to do that.”
Asked whether it will be difficult for parents and staff to persuade students to test regularly, he said: “I’ve got a 15-year-old son and, yes, it can be challenging to get them to do those lateral flow tests.”
He added: “By doing the tests twice a week it means that we can reduce the spread of Covid-19 in that age group and we can continue education more effectively.
“So I think it’s like anything else with teenagers – it’s about parents managing that and having that conversation and helping them to understand the importance of doing that, because by doing the regular testing we are enabling some other freedoms to happen.
“It’s not pleasant, but they’ve been used to doing it and continuing to keep that will really help especially as we go into the autumn.”
Swimmer Matthew Richards, who won a gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, has endorsed the Government’s campaign.
The 18-year-old told PA: “I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t fed up at points of sticking a thing up my nose and finding out a test result.
“It gets frustrating, it gets mundane, you get used to it and you just go through the motions, but, when you think about it, it is really important.”
He told students: “People going back to school, if you’re not particularly worried about it for yourself, the person you sit next to in one of your lessons could be really worried.
“For their peace of mind, not only yourself, but their peace of mind – knowing that everybody around them is clear of Covid and they haven’t got to worry about that when they go home just takes that pressure off.”
Today, we are launching our ‘back to school’ campaign to set out the experience that all pupils can 'get back to' from September.
All staff and secondary school and college pupils should take rapid Covid-19 tests at the start of term and then twice weekly.
— Department for Education (@educationgovuk) August 26, 2021
Department for Education (DfE) guidance states that secondary school and college pupils in England should be tested twice on-site on their return, with lateral flow tests carried out between three and five days apart.
Pupils should then continue to test twice weekly at home until the end of September, when the policy will be reviewed.
Schools and colleges in England are also being encouraged to maintain increased hygiene and ventilation from September, but year group “bubbles” and face covering requirements have been removed.
Education unions have called for more action from the Government to ensure schools are kept as safe as possible and education is not disrupted further.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), told PA: “We know from last term’s experience that the take-up of twice-weekly testing at home was patchy, despite the best efforts of schools and colleges to encourage this control measure.
“We would urge the Government to do more to get the message out about the importance of carrying out these tests. It is vital that they are used in order to detect asymptomatic cases before they come into the school environment with the potential for transmission and resulting disruption.”
The plea comes as teachers and families have been urged to take precautions to reduce outbreaks of the winter sickness bug as schools prepare to reopen.
NHS consultant paediatrician and TV presenter Dr Ranj Singh, who has also backed the Government’s campaign, told PA: “As we enter winter and go into those colder months, we are going to see a resurgence of other viruses and illnesses and infections, and that’s expected.
“All I would urge is that people do whatever they can to stay as well as they possibly can, particularly from a Covid perspective.
“So, that’s following those basic hygiene and healthy behaviours, and, if you’re asymptomatic and you’re secondary school or college age, make sure you’re doing your lateral flow tests.”
Attendance advisers are being recruited by the DfE to work with councils and multi-academy trusts where absence rates are higher than average.
Mr Barton told PA that school leaders are “very concerned” about attendance during autumn term, and added that it would “not be surprising” if some parents decide to home-school their children because of Covid fears.
“What schools and colleges do not need is having any higher than average absence levels being picked over by attendance advisers,” he said.
“They have become experts at managing absence during the pandemic and will not appreciate the Government finding money for more bureaucrats when it has failed to invest in a proper recovery plan for young people.”