02 January 2022

Government urged to secure Covid-19 tests for schools

02 January 2022

The Government is being urged to make sure enough Covid-19 tests are available for schoolchildren and staff.

The Department for Education (DfE) is encouraging secondary, college, and university students, as well as education staff, to test themselves twice a week.

It also said schools and colleges were able to order tests through a priority route and were able to order them before the Christmas break.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid’s announcement last week that ministers expect a need to “constrain” supply to the general population for a fortnight amid surging demands sparked concerns over supply that have now prompted calls from the Labour Party and a headteachers’ union for the Government to make sure the tests are available for schools.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “The difficulties the public have had in accessing lateral flow tests over the past few weeks has made many people nervous that they will not be available when needed for school staff and pupils.

“If lateral flow tests are to be critical to enabling pupils and staff to return to school quickly then there must be a ready supply available for schools as they go back in January and throughout the term.”

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “I think there are two things, though, that the Government can and should be doing. The first is on testing. Pupils should be testing twice a week.

“There’s lots of evidence to suggest that hasn’t been happening properly.

“So the message for Government is get the tests in place, make sure pupils are able to test twice a week.

A student takes a lateral flow test at Hounslow Kingsley Academy in West London (PA) (PA Archive)

“And my message to parents and pupils is ‘do take the tests’ because the big challenge this month is going to be keeping pupils learning, avoiding mass absences, and of course making sure that staff are well enough to attend school as well.”

Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the teachers’ union NASUWT, said: “I think the reality is that tests are one part of the response to tackling this virus.

“They’re an important part but they are one part.”

He added: “Clearly tests are important; schools have been supplied with test kits and we were able to order those before Christmas. We’ll have to see whether school supplies are running short, but the important thing is that this is one of a number of mitigation measures that can be used to help to minimise the spread of the virus.”

According to Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), there are currently no concerns over the supply of lateral flow tests to schools.

He said: “With regards to the availability of lateral flow test kits, schools and colleges are able to order them through an online ordering system, and were advised to place orders before the Christmas holidays if more kits were needed for the start of term.

“These orders are due to be delivered in the week commencing January 3, and we have not been notified by the Government of any issues affecting supply.”

The Rev Steve Chalke, the founder of one of England’s largest academy trusts – Oasis Academy Learning – said the Department for Education had done a “great job” and his schools had received the tests they needed.

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