Head teachers broken by Englands late Covid test plan

Head teachers broken by Englands late Covid test plan

School staff feel “broken” by last minute demands for them to set up and run mini-test and trace schemes in their schools, a head teacher has said.

Nicola Mason, a Staffordshire school head, said she was staggered to hear, as the term ends, that heads have to set up testing for pupils next term.

It meant she and other heads would have to spend their Christmas holidays planning for the January start.

Schools minister Nick Gibb said it was a response to a fast moving situation.

But the fact it was the last day of term for many thousands of schools across England has left secondary head teachers bemused and struggling.

The plan involves using the first week of term to test all pupils as they return gradually to classrooms in a staggered way.

Those in exam years, 11 and 13, would return first for face-to-face teaching, while the rest would be taught online.

Ms Mason, Head of Chase Terrace Academy in Burntwood, said: “The government at the very last minute again have literally broken the teachers.”

She said local public health teams already had plans in place to phase tests in next term which are now not valid.

“Leaders are confused at best,” she said, “the guidance is way too late to plan effectively, there are still a number of things we don’t know.”

“We found out through BBC News, we weren’t even told directly that this was being put into place. Frankly I am staggered.”

She said already exhausted staff now had to use the Christmas holidays planning for remote learning using different resources than they would have otherwise used.

School leaders would also have to recruit volunteers, do safe-guarding checks, and organise the logistics of the testing and gain consent from parents.

“We’ve got 1,300 children in our school, about 1,100 of them are under 16. So it’s the logistics of getting that consent,” she said.

“At the same time of doing all of that, we’ve got key worker schools that we have to be providing, and rightly so.

“We have to keep our vulnerable children safe and make sure we accommodate our key worker children, but there simply won’t be the staffing to run a key workers’ school as well as have all of our staff online remotely teaching lessons.”

Another head teacher, Simon Uttley, of Blessed Hugh Faringdon School in Reading, said he also first heard of government plans from the BBC News app.

He said the reality of Covid was like the Battle of Britain, but the government response is more like Dad’s Army.

Mr Gibb defended the plans, saying fuller guidance would be published next week filling in any gaps.

He said: “This is a fast moving pandemic, we have to take action at pace.

“We do have to take swift action, we’ve been testing these tests in schools over the last several weeks.

“This is all about education being our national priority.”

He said the programme would be a national effort supported by the Ministry of Defence and that schools would have the costs of agency staff covered – but it was not clear whether these staff would be health professionals or supply teachers.

“It is very important that we are testing 5.5 million students twice, three days apart, to make sure we are breaking the transmission of the virus after the increased mixing over the Christmas holidays,” he said.

“It’s all about making sure we have more young people in the classroom over the spring and summer term as we go forward, and this is an amazing initiative to get these tests into schools.

“It is the way we tackle this virus.”

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