Rapid Covid-19 tests could soon be offered daily in schools in bid to keep classrooms open
- The new system will be introduced in England in January for secondary schools
- Officials hope will improve attendance so pupils get more face-to-face teaching
- Tests will require consent of parents, students or school staff, the DfE has said
Rapid coronavirus testing will soon be available at every secondary school and college.
Students will not need to self-isolate if one of their ‘bubble’ comes down with the virus if they take daily tests for a week, the Department for Education says.
Under the new system, to be introduced in England in January and hailed as a ‘game-changer’ by one head, all staff will also be eligible for rapid tests weekly, regardless of whether they have come into contact with a positive case.
Officials hope the changes will improve attendance so pupils get more face-to-face teaching.
Under the new system, due to be introduced in January, students identified as a close contact of someone who tests positive will not need to self-isolate if they agree to be tested once a day. (Stock image)
Hamid Patel, chief executive of Star Academies, which took part in trials of the system, said: ‘Attendance has improved as fewer close contacts have been required to self-isolate.
‘Parents who may have been wavering have gained confidence to send their children to school, and staff have been reassured.
‘It is a game-changer for the sector.’
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson added: ‘This huge expansion of rapid testing for those working in education is a milestone moment in our work to keep schools and colleges open for all.
‘It means more children, teachers and staff can stay in their classes in schools and colleges without the need to self-isolate.’
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘Rapid regular testing offers a reliable and effective way to keep schools open and children learning.
‘It will also help us to identify asymptomatic cases that we otherwise wouldn’t know about, and protect the wider community beyond the school gates.’
However, the National Education Union said it was ‘ridiculous’ for schools to prepare for the testing rollout with ‘almost zero notice’, and called for the first week of next term to be taught entirely online.
Officials hope the changes will improve attendance so that pupils get more face-to-face teaching. (Stock image)
Paul Whiteman, of heads’ union the NAHT, questioned if schools would have ‘the staff, the training or the clinical supervision to carry them out effectively’.
At present if one student or staff member tests positive up to a whole school bubble has to self-isolate.
From January, students identified as a close contact of someone who tests positive will not need to self-isolate if they agree to be tested once a day.
The tests will require the consent of parents, students or school staff, the DfE has said.
The move comes as the latest official figures show that pupil attendance fell last week.
Unions expressed concerns about the potential workload of school staff after an NHS handbook was sent to them spelling out their new responsibilities.
According to Schools Week magazine, this says secondary schools will need to create a host of new roles including team leader, test assistant, processor, Covid-19 coordinator, registration assistant and results recorder to manage the testing process.
Staff will apparently also need to undergo training and schools will have to establish their own testing sites.
…as one council caves in to legal threats on closures
Greenwich Council is to keep its schools open after caving in to Government legal threats.
The London borough agreed to withdraw its advice to local schools to switch to online learning for the last few days of term amid rising virus rates in the capital.
But Education Secretary Gavin Williamson reacted with a ‘Temporary Continuity Direction’, warning the Labour-run authority to keep schools open or face legal action.
Council leader Danny Thorpe said: ‘With Covid-19 cases rising rapidly in the borough, I cannot agree that this is the correct choice.
‘However, I also cannot justify the use of public funds to fight the decision in the courts. I have no choice but to ask our schools to keep their doors open to all.’
After the Government action, Labour-run Islington Council also withdrew similar advice to its schools to move all learning online, but advised them to classify Thursday and Friday this week as inset days instead.
It was not clear if Waltham Forest Council would also back down after the confrontation.
Mr Williamson defended his move by stressing the importance of keeping children in school. But unions reacted with fury to his ‘bully-boy tactics’.
Geoff Barton, head of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘Schools at the very least deserved some flexibility over their end-of-term arrangements in the best interests of their pupils and staff but instead have been met with legal threats. That will not be easily forgotten.’
The row came as the Government steadfastly refused to consider a plea from London mayor Sadiq Khan’s to close secondary schools and colleges early and reopen them later in January.
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