Coronavirus: Schools need 'priority access' to testing and protective equipment

Teachers should get “priority access” to protective equipment, MPs have demanded, as staff are still waiting for further guidance on how to stay safe in school.

The education committee has also urged education secretary Gavin Williamson to prioritise teachers and school staff for COVID-19 testing “as it comes available”.

It comes as the government is under fire for not testing enough NHS staff. Just 2,000 of half a million workers have been testing for coronavirus so far, despite up to one in four staff being off with suspected symptoms in some areas of the country.

In a letter to Williamson yesterday, education committee chair Robert Halfon said he was “concerned teachers on the frontline may not have access to priority COVID-19 testing, which is currently being developed.

“We feel that this is particularly important for teachers and school staff who continue to be asked to look after the most vulnerable children, even though most schools remain closed.”

He said guidance on social distancing will be “much harder to observe” for schools that provide “significant levels of specialist and personal care and support”.

Halfon added: “While testing along with not prevent the transmission of COVID-19, it will help schools and headteachers to make agile and informed decisions and ensure those who are identified as having COVID-19 are not inadvertently asked to work on the frontline in close proximity to children.”

New government guidance yesterday said school staff who live with people most at-risk from coronavirus should work from home “where possible”.

A quarter of teachers and leaders said in a recent Teacher Tapp survey that somebody in their direct household is considered high-risk if they contract COVID-19.

Halfon also urged that, where necessary, “frontline teaching staff are given priority access to personal protective equipment”, urging the government to publish guidance about issuing equipment to schools that need it “as soon as possible to end uncertainty”.

“Initial” safety guidance published by the Department for Education last week was branded “inadequate” by unions.