Secondary schools must prepare to run on-site Covid testing when pupils return after the Christmas holidays, it was revealed yesterday.
Headteachers have been emailed by the Department for Education (DfE), asking them to perform symptomatic testing beginning in 2022.
The measure is designed to reduce transmission ‘after a period of social mixing’ over the festive break.
The DfE acknowledged it was a ‘significant ask’, giving schools less than three full working days to order the lateral flow testing kits they will need.
Association of School and College Leaders, (ASCL), criticized the delay in the announcement and the additional pressure that it puts on secondary schools.
Yesterday, the revelation that Secondary Schools must be prepared to conduct on-site Covid Testing when students return from Christmas vacations was made public (stock photo).
It accused the government of treating schools as ‘an ad hoc branch of the NHS’, by expecting them to ‘handle the logistics of staffing and setting up testing stations’.
The DfE email to schools said: ‘We would like all secondary schools to prepare to test their pupils once on-site on return in January.
‘We understand that this is a significant additional ask but testing continues to play a vital role in keeping Covid-19 out of schools.
‘Testing all pupils in school boosts testing participation and will help reduce transmission after a period of social mixing over the school holidays.
‘Tests, PPE and funding to support your workforce will be provided as before. After this test on return, pupils should continue to test in line with government guidelines.’
Schools have been informed that they must order enough testing kits before Tuesday to enable January testing.
This email, which was seen by The Times Educational Supplement, asks schools for home testing kits.
It added: ‘Please check your test kit stock levels and make an order of test kits so that both staff and students are able to test over the holiday period if required, and for the first week of January, using home test kits.’
Headteachers have also been told that Ofsted will not carry out inspections during the first week of schools’ return in January unless the watchdog has significant concerns.
Schools have been informed that they must order enough lateral flow test kits by Tuesday in order to be able to conduct testing when students return from January.
However, Julie McCulloch, director of policy at ASCL, said it was ‘not reasonable for the government to once again impose this considerable public health task on schools with minimal support’.
She said: ‘The role of schools should be limited to providing a space for test centres and communicating with students.
‘But the government expects them also to handle the logistics of staffing and setting up testing stations.
‘It seems to have forgotten that school leaders are educators rather than an ad hoc branch of the NHS.
‘Their focus is on providing the teaching and learning required by their students, which is particularly important in the context of the disruption caused by the pandemic.’
She added: ‘The last thing they need is another huge responsibility which does not even fall within the remit of education.
‘It is hardly the greatest timing either that this has been communicated in an email late on a Friday afternoon, and that they have been told that they will need to order sufficient test kits for this task by Tuesday, which seems an incredibly short timeframe.’
DfE updated guidance yesterday to state that secondary students must take one exam on-site when they return to school in January. A second test should be taken at home approximately three to four working days later.
Further education students, and staff in all education settings, should take one self-test at home ‘either the evening or morning before they return in January’, before continuing to test in line with government guidelines.
A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘As part of our commitment to protecting face-to-face education, we are asking all secondary school pupils to complete one on-site test as they return to school after the Christmas break, reflecting that mixing between households is likely to increase over Christmas.
‘Protective measures in place continue to strike a balance between managing transmission risk with testing, hygiene, ventilation and vaccines, and we encourage any eligible young people who haven’t yet had the vaccine to consider using the Christmas break to do so.’
In December 2012, controversy erupted when the DfE announced late in the term that schools in secondary education would need to perform on-site Covid testing by January 2021.
But, after just one day of the new term began, the Prime Minister announced a new lockdown that would apply to all nationalities.