Everything you need to know about mass testing in Suffolk's schools

Most secondary school pupils would start the new term learning online to allow headteachers to roll out mass coronavirus...

Most secondary school pupils would start the new term learning online to allow headteachers to roll out mass coronavirus testing of children and staff. - Credit: PA

Schools across Suffolk are preparing for the new term however there will be a few differences for students at the start of 2021. 

Gavin Williamson announced a range of measures in place for schools across the UK, including a staggered start for high school students in Suffolk. 

Staff and students will also now face mass testing on their return to school.

The government yesterday announced that primary schools will return from January 4 as planned, while all students in Years 11 and 13 will go back the week commencing January 11. Years 7 to 10, and Year 12 students,  won't return until January 18.

However, schools will still be open from January 4 for the children of key workers.

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One of the major differences will be "mass testing" which has been introduced by the Department of Education.

The government says that staff and pupils at secondary schools will have access to rapid testing from January to help "as many pupils as possible" to continue to be able to attend schools.

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All secondary schools and colleges, including special schools and alternative provision settings, will be offered test kits to allow weekly testing for everyone.

Students will only be offered daily tests if they have been identified as a close contact of a positive case.

Schools will have to set space for testing and will be supplied with kits which can be used by students and staff,  however. 

A number of teachers have hit out at the plans which they say have happened too late. 

Dave Lee-Allan, chairman of the Suffolk Association of Secondary Headteachers, said he felt "anger and disbelief" when the government announced the planned testing as schools broke up for the holidays, leaving no time for preparation.

He doubts the virtual training from the military will be of much practical use and said space to complete tests was another issue being faced by schools.

There is still little information on how testing will be rolled out in primary schools. 

Government advice says: "Mass testing will help identify asymptomatic cases – which make up a third of all cases – limiting the spread of the virus.

"Staff and pupils who are close contacts of cases will be eligible for daily testing, eliminating the need for immediate self-isolation.

"Only if a daily test returns a positive result will the staff member need to isolate. 

"This means fewer staff members will need to isolate, ensuring they can continue teaching, and fewer pupils/students will need to isolate, enabling them to attend."

However, former Suffolk headteacher Geoff Barton said teachers would be "frustrated" at the last-minute nature of the government's announcement.

He said: "We appreciate this is a fast-developing situation but the government has made a habit of chaotic 11th-hour announcements which leave schools and colleges picking up the pieces.”

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