Covid tests and masks: School prepares for return to class

Covid tests and masks: School prepares for return to class

Schools in England are preparing to reopen their doors fully to all pupils from 8 March. Students in secondary schools will be asked to take Covid-19 tests – initially at school and then at home.

The BBC spoke to pupils, staff and parents at St John Talbot School in Whitchurch, Shropshire, to find out what they made of the news.

Finlay, who is in Year 7 at St John Talbot School, has been coming into school during lockdown and is used to doing the Covid tests.

“The tests, they’re not very nice,” he says. “Once you get used to them, they’re not that bad and it becomes a routine. And then doing them at home, I think because you’ve been doing them in school, it shouldn’t be that bad.”

On Monday, the government announced that secondary school pupils would be asked to take a voluntary coronavirus test at home twice a week.

When they first start returning to school from 8 March, they will be offered three tests at school, to help them get used to the procedure.

“I think it will be easier for people who’ve been doing them at school to do them at home,” Finlay says. “They might struggle a bit more.”

Callum, also in Year 7, says taking the tests were “challenging” at first. He says the swab up the nose is the most difficult part.

“It makes your eyes water and it’s a horrible thing to do. But it’s good to have them to make sure you’re safe and that other people are safe.”

Kieran, who is in Year 13, says: “After the first time it just feels natural, you get used to it. It’s a bit scary but it’s not going to hurt – it tickles your throat a bit and might make your nose snot up a bit and your eyes water, but that’s it.”

He welcomes the idea of doing the tests at home, saying it will be quicker and easier. “You don’t have to rely on the school to do it, you can just do it yourself when you want to do it, any time.”

Pupils in secondary schools will also be expected to wear face masks in class, not just in corridors as before.

“I think it’ll be quite tricky and very different for people,” Finlay says. “But you have to do it and it will come as a routine quite soon.

“If you can maybe try and get your own that’s like a fabric one, not a paper one, maybe that’ll make it more comfortable. There’s not really much you can do, you just have to try and get used to it.”

Callum says masks in class might be distracting and says he fears it could make it hard to concentrate. “I have asthma so it’s hard to breathe sometimes, but they’re there to make sure that you’re safe and other people are safe.”

“It’ll take us a week to adjust,” adds Kieran. He says some of the older pupils have who have jobs are used to wearing one. “But the younger ones, they might fight a little bit over it and not want to do it.”

Kerry Allmark says she is happy to help her son do the tests at home.

“I’m happy to do it, I’m happy to help Kyle test. I think it’s a positive thing because at least we know the tests are being done, because it’s going to be very difficult for the school to try and test every child.

“As a con, I suppose you’ve got some parents who may forget to do the testing, forget to register the test online.”

She is also happy about face masks being required in the classroom.

“I think it’s a good thing – keep everybody safe really. We’ve had a big ask as a country to change the way we’re living, to change the things we’re doing and the way we’re acting. This is just another little ask of the teenagers to get them back into school, to get their education going again.”

David O’Toole, deputy chief executive at the Marches Academy Trust, which runs the St John Talbot School, says his schools are “all ready” for the full return of pupils.

In terms of testing, he expects to be able to process about 250 children a day, and says those staff and pupils who are currently in school – under the key worker and vulnerable children arrangement – are already in a good routine.

“When I arrived at the school this morning, the children were all queued up ready, they were spaced out two metres apart, staff just joined the queue, worked their way through. The process runs incredibly smoothly,” he says.

The biggest challenge on the return, he says, will be the first tests in schools because students “have got to have at least one negative test before they go into the classroom”.

Mr O’Toole also says it’s important for schools to work closely with their community. “We need to work with parents to reassure them – the process is relatively straightforward, it’s a simple task.

“There is a gag reflex, which is the hardest element of the test, and we’re making sure that they’re prepared for that.”

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