Call to keep free tests in schools after 'worrying' rise in Covid cases

An education expert has called for free testing in schools to continue "for the foreseeable future".

An education expert has called for free testing in schools to continue "for the foreseeable future". - Credit: PA

A Suffolk education expert has called for free Covid testing to continue in schools for "the foreseeable future" as cases jump by 40% in under a week.

According to the latest data from Suffolk County Council, there were 1,350 cases of Covid among young people in the week up to March 14. This is up 42% from the week to March 10.

The data also showed that 289 education settings in the county were currently linked to at least one case.

Since February most teachers and pupils are not required to test twice a week - and free tests are in any case set to end. 

Geoff Barton, a former Suffolk head who is now general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We have been hearing worrying reports from schools and colleges over the last few days about rapidly increasing rates of Covid-related absence among both pupils and staff.

Geoff Barton, headteacher at King Edward VI Upper School in Bury.

Geoff Barton, former headteacher at King Edward VI Upper School in Bury St Edmunds. - Credit: PHIL MORLEY

“The government seems to have largely drawn a line under the pandemic and moved on but the evidence coming from our schools and colleges is that business is still very far from being back to normal.

"The worry is that, once free testing stops as the government is currently planning, the number of students and staff coming into classrooms with Covid could increase even further, and lead to even more disruption to education.

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"Testing is one of the few tools we still have to reduce transmission among students and staff and the government must reverse its decision and continue to provide free tests to people working or studying in education settings beyond the end of March and for the foreseeable future.”

Karen Mills, executive of Suffolk Primary Headteachers' Association, said currently some schools were requesting pupils who have Covid show a negative test before they go back into the classroom.

Karen Mills, executive of Suffolk Primary Headteachers' Association

Karen Mills, executive of Suffolk Primary Headteachers' Association - Credit: SARAH LUCY BROWN

She said: "You might have a rural school where there's a lot of space, you might have a school where children don't have so much freedom to get out in the fresh air.

"This is why individual schools have been given the choice to reflect their individual circumstances."

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We are now moving to living with – and managing – the virus, while maintaining the population’s wall of protection and communicating safer behaviours that the public can follow to manage risk.

"Decisions on testing in education settings after April 1 will be outlined in due course.”