School leaders have slammed ‘frankly ludicrous’ government plans to roll-out rapid mass Covid testing in schools across the country in just days.
The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said government guidance on rapid tests ‘doesn’t take us much further forward because it ignores the fact that this plan and timescale are totally unrealistic’.
Meanwhile the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) warned ‘the chaotic and rushed nature of the Government’s announcement, the lack of proper guidance, and an absence of appropriate support’ means that most tests ‘will not be in a position to carry this out in safe and effective manner’.
Some 1,500 military personnel were due to be deployed to ensure that testing systems were up and running by the time pupils returned for the new term in January.
But the majority of MoD staff will only offer advice on the phone or Zoom about the testing process and setting up facilities, and will only visit schools when there are ‘major issues’.
There are already major questions about whether this will actually keep schools open and whether the Government has the skill and ability to deliver a testing scheme which was announced in chaos.
It comes as Boris Johnson faces mounting pressure from his split Cabinet, teachers and unions to shut schools until February and consign millions of children to online learning to curb the ‘mutant’ strain of Covid.
ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton said: ‘The Government’s updated guidance on rapid Covid tests doesn’t take us much further forward because it ignores the fact that this plan and timescale are totally unrealistic.
One of the UK’s biggest teaching unions has slammed ‘frankly ludicrous’ government plans for mass rapid Covid testing in schools (file photo)
Geoff Barton of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said government guidance on rapid tests ‘doesn’t take us much further forward because it ignores the fact that this plan and timescale are totally unrealistic’
The UK’s four main teaching unions and the National Governance Association called the mass rapid testing scheme ‘inoperable’ and ‘undeliverable’ (file photo)
It comes as Boris Johnson faces mounting pressure from his split Cabinet, teachers and unions to shut schools until February and consign millions of children to online learning to curb the ‘mutant’ strain of Covid
Teachers and key workers ‘will be added to priority list when Oxford vaccine is approved’
Teachers and key workers are ‘expected to be added to the coronavirus vaccine priority list when the Oxford University jab is approved’.
The government is believed to be planning to overhaul the current order, which is focusing on the elderly, vulnerable and care home employees.
Teachers and some key workers will be eligible for injections, according to The Sun.
Before it has onlyu been given to the elderly, unwell or health and care home workers.
But Sage expert Sir Jeremy Farrar warned even if Britain hits one million vaccinations a week it will not curb the pandemic by February.
‘It is frankly ludicrous to think that schools and colleges will be able to recruit and train the workforce needed to carry out this testing programme in the 11 days before term is due to begin on January 4, particularly as it is the Christmas holiday period.
‘The guidance gives an illustrative example of a secondary school with 1,000 pupils and staff needing 13 people working on mass testing. How on earth are schools and colleges supposed to have such workforces in place by the first week of the new term?
‘The Government seems to be stuck in some sort of parallel universe in which it cannot grasp the huge scale of the task it is asking schools and colleges to carry out.
‘Schools and colleges are very keen for rapid Covid tests to be available to staff and students, but the government’s half-baked plan is simply not deliverable.’
Earlier this month the Department for Education (DfE) announced that the return of secondary school pupils in England would be delayed by a week to allow schools to test all pupils using rapid lateral flow tests.
Students at secondary schools and colleges will be offered two rapid tests three days apart during the first week of term, with positive results confirmed by a lab-based PCR test.
But the Government’s plan ran into controversy for lacking detail and for having been announced as schools close for the Christmas holidays.
The UK’s four main teaching unions and the National Governance Association called the mass rapid testing scheme ‘inoperable’ and ‘undeliverable’.
A statement by the ASCL, the NAHT, the National Education Union (NEU), the NASUWT and the National Governance Association advised staff to delay preparations until the start of term and refuse to work on the scheme over the Christmas break.
Military is drafted in to test thousands of children for Covid so schools can reopen
All Britons over the age of 50 could be vaccinated by spring, the head of the NHS has claimed, adding that medics are ‘in the eye of the storm’ as hospitalisations and cases pass first wave peaks.
NHS England data shows 20,426 hospital beds were occupied by patients who had tested positive for coronavirus as of 8am yesterday morning, up from around 17,700 exactly a week ago.
And the UK recorded 41,385 cases of Covid yesterday, in the largest one-day increase since the pandemic began.
Hospital bosses have begged the public not to party on New Year, with fears of any gatherings leading to another surge in infections.
Yet despite the chaos, the controversial Nightingale hospitals, built at great expense, are being quietly dismantled as there are not enough staff to run them. The majority of the seven £220 million Nightingale hospitals are yet to start treating Covid-19 patients in the second wave and the facility at London’s Excel centre has already been stripped of its beds and ventilators.
NHS chief Sir Simon Stevens has described 2020 as the ‘toughest year’ the health service had ever faced – but also shared optimism that the situation would improve by spring, with 22 million Britons potentially vaccinated.
He said: ‘Many of us will have lost family, friends, colleagues and, at a time of year when we would normally be celebrating, a lot of people are understandably feeling anxious, frustrated and tired.
‘And now, again, we are back in the eye of the storm with a second wave of coronavirus sweeping Europe and, indeed, this country.’
It said: ‘It is our view that due to the chaotic and rushed nature of this announcement, the lack of proper guidance and an absence of appropriate support, the Government’s plan in its current form will be inoperable for most schools and colleges.
‘Schools and colleges simply do not have the staffing capacity to carry this out themselves. As such, most will not be in a position to carry this out in a safe and effective manner.’
The Royal Statistical Society said it had ‘major concerns’ that the Government’s plans may be unsafe because the tests were ‘imperfect and must be used with great care’. It called on ministers to ‘review them with urgency’.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, said: ‘Whilst we support the concept of rapid testing in schools, the chaotic and rushed nature of the Government’s announcement, the lack of proper guidance, and an absence of appropriate support, means that most will not be in a position to carry this out in safe and effective manner.
‘Given the lack of detailed guidance or a coherent plan, we do not believe schools or colleges will be able to begin working on this before the start of next term.
‘We will fully support members who choose not to implement the plan if they consider it to be unworkable in their schools, as the government guidance allows for this if not the headline announcement.
‘The Government have handed schools a confused and chaotic mess at the 11th hour. By dropping this on schools minutes before the end of term, leaders are left with no time to implement government’s instructions.
‘Covid testing should be administered and organised by those with the relevant expertise and experience, schools and colleges simply do not have the capacity to staff and run Covid testing sites themselves, whilst also providing education and vital pastoral support. Once again, an announcement that, if properly planned and executed could have been positive, is poised to fail.’
Sam Henson, director of policy and information at the National Governance Association, said: ‘Large scale testing is clearly an important priority but the lateness of this announcement and the huge degree of pressure that this places on school leaders as a result is unacceptable and irresponsible.
‘The expectation for schools to assemble a workforce and roll this out in the next few working days is both unreasonable and unviable.’
Dr Patrick Roach, NASUWT General Secretary, said: ‘We all want pupils and school staff to be as safe as possible in school but an unplanned, uncoordinated and unworkable approach to mass testing without the provision of adequate resources and additional trained personnel risks undermining, rather than enhancing Covid safety.
‘The Government must work with schools and colleges on a sensible timescale for the roll out of testing which is backed with the necessary practical and financial support to ensure safety and support the continued fight against Covid-19.’
Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the NEU, said: ‘The rising infection rates amongst secondary pupils has been alarming and mass testing has been necessary for many months.
‘The Government’s last minute and ill thought plans for schools and colleges to administer these tests is unacceptable and could jeopardise something that is so essential to bring down Covid rates in schools, colleges, and society.
Millions more Britons face being plunged into Tier 4 this week as the mutant Covid-19 strain continues to spread across the country
Tory MPs told the PM school closures risked ‘damaging the life chances of our next generation’
Just 388 people under 60 without health conditions have died of coronavirus in England’s hospitals
The figures show that 1,979 previously healthy people died in hospitals in England after testing positive for Covid-19 between April 2 and December 23. Just 338 of these people were aged 40 to 59, with another 44 aged between 20 and 39, and just six under the age of 19, according to the data
Just 388 people aged under 60 with no underlying health conditions have died of Covid-19 in England’s hospitals since the start of the pandemic, NHS data has showed.
The figures show that 1,979 previously healthy people died in hospitals in England after testing positive for Covid-19 between April 2 and December 23.
Just 338 of these people were aged 40 to 59, with another 44 aged between 20 and 39, and just six under the age of 19, according to the data.
Meanwhile 45,770 deaths were recorded among those with pre-existing conditions, of which 21 were aged under 20, 263 were between 20 and 39 and 2,926 were aged between 40 and 59.
‘Government needs to get around the table with education unions to discuss how we salvage this situation and get a testing system that is operable and effective.’
It comes amid reports that SAGE has urged the PM to plunge England into an even tougher third national lockdown and keep all schools closed throughout January to suppress Covid.
The SAGE warning is said to have spooked Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove who are both said to have suggested that the reopening of schools might have to be delayed as daily infections hit 40,000, according to The Times.
In a meeting hosted by No10, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson argued that they must stick to the plan of a staggered start to the new term, with children in years 11 and 13, and those with key worker parents, going to secondary school from Monday with the rest returning on January 11. Primary Schools would open as usual on January 4.
Nicola Mason, head of Chase Terrace Academy in Burntwood, Staffordshire, has said the Government’s mass testing plans for secondary schools with the support of the military had led to a lot of ‘stress and panic’ for teachers.
She told BBC Breakfast: ‘Things have just come through to schools very late and it has certainly lead to a lot of stress and a lot of panic over the Christmas holidays to try and get people recruited.’
Ms Mason said her school had some community volunteers to help them carry out the testing programme ‘but we’ve still got nowhere near enough. I’m not sure we will be able to do all of that in the four days that we’ve got before children come back’.
Andy Byers, headteacher at Framwellgate School in Durham, told The Times that he plans to test children in the sports hall, but has not been time to recruit, and vet the criminal records, of new staff with term due to start in four working days.
He said: ‘Teachers need to plan. If the government is now thinking of a longer lockdown, it is reasonable to tell us in the next two or three days. We appreciate these decisions are difficult but putting them off makes it worse.’
Pepe Di’Iasio, head teacher of Wales High School in South Yorkshire, said: ‘We were all hoping that today we would receive some certainty from the education secretary. Instead we got more uncertainty.
‘I’m meant to be writing letters to our staff, the parents, our governors, telling them what we are going to do. Right now, I’ve no idea what those letters will say’.
NASUWT and the NEU have both written to Mr Williamson demanding schools are shut to allow testing to take place and for teachers to be vaccinated.