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Covid: Schools asked to test on-site after Christmas

Secondary schools in England have been asked to prepare to test pupils on-site after Christmas.

On Friday, the Department for Education told schools that testing pupils upon their return in January “will help reduce transmission after a period of social mixing” during the holidays.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said the DfE’s plans were “not reasonable”.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at ASCL, criticised the “short timeframe”.

In light of the new Covid variant, Omicron, the DfE sent an email to secondary schools in England on Friday. In its email, the department urged secondary schools to be prepared to test pupils when they return in January.

It recognised that the request was “a significant additional ask”. However, it stressed that “testing continues to play a vital role in keeping Covid-19 out of schools”.

The DfE added: “Testing all pupils in school boosts testing participation and will help reduce transmission after a period of social mixing over the school holidays.

“Tests, PPE and funding to support your workforce will be provided as before. After this test on return, pupils should continue to test in line with Government guidelines.”

Throughout the Covid pandemic, schools have faced several disruptions and have been at the heart of lockdown measures, because they provide the potential for prolonged close-up interactions between people from many different households.

  • On 18 March 2020, schools were told to close for all pupils – aside from vulnerable children and children of key workers. Other teaching was carried out remotely, with parents asked to ensure their children were learning from home
  • After a failed attempt to bring back students in June 2020, schools eventually returned in September that year
  • Because of the rise of the Delta variant, schools were told to return to teaching remotely after the Christmas break
  • Schools returned on 8 March. But rapid lateral flow tests had to be taken regularly by staff and pupils. But carrying out the tests was not the responsibility of schools
  • At the start of the autumn term this year, all secondary school and college pupils in England were asked to take two lateral flow tests at school on their return following the long summer holidays. They were then asked to continue to test twice a week at home

Speaking on behalf of the ASLC, Ms McCulloch said that the education sector recognises the importance of Covid-19 testing as a mechanism to reduce the levels of transmission. However, she says that “it is not reasonable for the government to once again impose this considerable public health task on schools with minimal support”.

She added that the government “seems to have forgotten that school leaders are educators rather than an ad hoc branch of the NHS”.

Ms McCulloch said that the main goal for teachers at the moment is to provide the teaching and learning required by their pupils, which is “particularly important” following the disruptions experienced due to the pandemic.

The government said that introducing on-site testing is part of their commitment to protect face-to-face education and they are asking secondary school pupils to take one test at school when they return in January.

  • BBC NEWS
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