William Eichler 16 December 2020

Council chiefs concerned about impact of COVID-19 testing on ‘exhausted’ school staff

Local authority leaders have raised concerns about the impact of the Government’s plan to roll out coronavirus testing in schools on already overstretched school staff.

The education secretary Gavin Williamson has announced that every secondary school and college in England, as well as special schools and alternative provision, will have access to rapid coronavirus testing from January.

School staff will be eligible for weekly rapid tests as part of an initial roll out and students will be eligible for daily testing for seven days if they are identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive.

Staff will also be eligible for daily testing if they are identified as a close contact.

‘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,’ said Mr Williamson.

‘I know it has taken a phenomenal effort from everyone to ensure approximately 99% of schools have been open each week since the start of term.

‘Testing on this scale brings real benefits to education, it means more children, teachers and staff can stay in their classes in schools and colleges without the need to self-isolate.’

Primary schools will be supported to roll out testing as quickly as possible over the spring term, Mr Williamson added.

Responding to the announcement, Cllr Judith Blake, chair of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Children and Young People Board, said: ‘COVID-19 testing in schools is one tool to help local authorities in their drive to keep schools open to ensure pupils don’t fall further behind in their education.

‘However, we are concerned over the impact on school staff and the need for them to be trained if they are expected to administer the testing fully and safely, as well as the expected timescale to achieve this, which will fall to already exhausted staff and leadership teams. Government also needs to recognise and utilise the experience of school nurses in this roll-out and learn from the experience of testing in the care sector.

‘They all need to have full confidence in arrangements for testing, knowing that the risks and benefits are fully understood, alongside continued safety measures including use of PPE, social distancing and hand hygiene.

‘Schools are based in the heart of communities so it is vital that schools testing aligns with other parts of the system, such as contact tracing and test and trace local outbreak management, and is planned and resourced alongside directors of public health and councils.’

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