More than a third of rapid Covid test deliveries to schools this term have been late, incomplete or have failed to arrive at all despite promises of a “priority supply route”.
Schools fear a lack of lateral flow tests (LFTs) could lead to closures and spiralling supply costs as guidance changes mean they become more reliant on the tests than before.
Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said testing was now the government’s “key means of controlling the spread of coronavirus”.
A shortage of testing kits “causes problems” and the union was raising the issue with the government, she added.
Staffing fears as school stocks run low
A Teacher Tapp survey of around 1,800 senior leaders found that just over a third of LFT deliveries had arrived on time this term.
In contrast, 17 per cent of schools reported that none had arrived and they were still waiting, 13 per cent said only some kits had arrived and 5 per cent said they were delivered late. The remaining third either did not know or could not answer.
DfE guidance “strongly encourages” staff and secondary school pupils to conduct twice weekly LFT tests at home.
But Karen Dhanecha, headteacher of Park Way Primary School in Maidstone, Kent, is still awaiting delivery of test ordered in November.
An emergency order was also placed after the tests failed to arrive before Christmas and scheduled for drop-off last week, but neither has arrived.
“Our risk assessment says that all staff and any visitors to the schools must have a negative test. Unless I change my risk assessment and say it doesn’t matter, I won’t be able to staff the school,” she added.
Separate Teacher Tapp polling last week for the Sutton Trust found that eight per cent of schools had staff unable to attend due to a lack of Covid tests.
Since December 14, vaccinated adults and children aged between 5 and 18 who are close contacts of a positive case can attend school but are “strongly advised” to conduct LFTs each day for seven days.
Simon Smith, headteacher at East Whitby Primary Academy in Yorkshire, warned this
was creating the biggest problem.
His school is waiting for 393 test boxes scheduled for delivery on January 4.
He said the school could have lost eight staff members this week who were close contacts, at a cost of around £800 per day, were staff not able to use limited spare testing kits.
“There are so many challenges we are facing – this shouldn’t be one of them,” he added.
A DfE blog post stated last week that test shortages were “not a problem for schools as
they use a different priority supply route”.
A spokesperson said this week there were “no widespread issues” and that schools should have “sufficient supplies”.
Around 31 million test kits were delivered to schools and colleges during the last two weeks of last term, with millions delivered each week this year too.
Other headteachers praised the speed at which emergency replenishment kits were delivered within days.
Guidance increased demand for tests
The Sutton Trust study also found 5 per cent of schools reported not having enough LFTs to distribute to pupils.
Catharine Darnton, headteacher at Gillotts School in Oxfordshire, explained that “parents are more reliant on schools at the moment” due to shortages elsewhere.
A delivery of 1,000 test boxes scheduled to arrive last week has been rescheduled for Friday, meaning only select year groups will get supplies this week.
This, however, was the school’s first problem with deliveries since March.
Meanwhile, Nottinghamshire County Council stepped in and provided around 600 kits for pupils to take home at Alderman White School in Bramcote after a mix-up with its delivery.