Warning over Covid tests causing delays to start of school term
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High schools carrying out Covid-19 testing "inevitably" means students will face disruption at the start of term, a former Suffolk headteacher turned union leader has warned.
Department for Education (DfE) guidance states that secondary school pupils in England should be tested twice on site on their return in the autumn term, with lateral flow device tests carried out between three and five days apart.
It adds secondary schools and colleges can "stagger" the return of pupils across the first week to manage the Covid-19 testing process.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the staggered start "will inevitably mean some disruption during the first week of the new term."
Mr Barton, former head of King Edward VI School, in Bury St Edmunds, added: "Schools and colleges will very much hope that there will then be a great deal more stability in attendance than over the past heavily disrupted academic year.
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"The testing programme is a very significant logistical exercise, and we have repeatedly urged the government to provide schools and colleges with more practical support in delivering these tests.”
Nationally, the Labour Party has written to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, after the average pupil missed 115 days in school during the pandemic.
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It warned recent reports suggesting that the return to school could be delayed for pupils has created uncertainty and confusion for families, with less than a fortnight to go until the start of term.
Dave Lee-Allan, headteacher of Stowmarket High School, said his school's start was being staggered due to the requirement for coronavirus testing.
On September 1 there will be a professional development day with no students, then new Year 7 pupils will start on September 2, Year 11 on September 3, Years 8 and 10 on September 6 and Year 9 on September 7. There is also a separate schedule for when the various year groups will be tested.
Originally, the plan was for Years 8, 9 and 10 to all start on September 6, but Year 9 will now have to start a day later due to the amount of time it will take to carry out all the testing.
"We are hopeful that this staggering will allow us time to test all students once, but we are not delaying or staggering beyond this and will factor in the second test during the week beginning September 6," he added.
Mr Lee-Allan, who is also chair of Suffolk Association of Secondary Heads, said it had been very difficult to plan because schools had only been told about the likely testing requirements in the final week of the summer term.
"As a logistical exercise, doing all this when everyone is away becomes very difficult. We have got to set up a massive test station in one day in the centre of the school.
"We had already planned things like assemblies, which are so important for all schools at the start of term, but now the test station will be using the space."
The headteacher added it would have helped schools a lot if the government had arranged for a testing service during the holidays. "It is just accepted that we can manage all these things."
Jerry Glazier, secretary for the Essex branch of the National Education Union (NEU), said: "Schools will be making decisions based on their risk assessment of the situation, and how they can make a smooth start to the term. No one wants schools to be disrupted."
He said poor ventilation could cause further disruption in the new school year and the union had called for schools to have air purifiers installed, but so far the government had only agreed to install carbon dioxide monitors.