Unions tell Williamson schools cannot run on-site Covid tests themselves

School leaders say the government must not expect schools themselves to run on-site daily testing.

Heads’ and teachers’ unions have warned Gavin Williamson schools cannot be responsible for running daily on-site Covid testing themselves from September.

The general secretaries of school leaders’ unions NAHT and ASCL and teachers’ union NEU have written a joint letter to the education secretary, voicing their “anger and dismay” over the government’s treatment of school leaders.

They hit out at a “constant backdrop of criticism” this year, saying prime minister Boris Johnson’s spokesperson had implied this week schools were “capriciously choosing to send home more pupils than necessary”.

The leaders say expecting schools to continue undertaking public health duties will be “to the detriment” of staff’s health and ability to focus on education, and demand public health bodies step in to run on-site testing.

Williamson told MPs on Wednesday he hoped to confirm the removal of school bubbles as part of the next easing of Covid restrictions, with schools told to prepare for potential on-site testing after the summer.

The announcement followed a growing backlash over the number of children forced to self-isolate after classmates test positive amid rising infection rates.

NAHT leader Paul Whiteman, ASCL’s Geoff Barton and the NEU’s Kevin Courtney and Mary Bousted have now condemned the government’s failure to clearly spell out its bubble and testing plans  so close to the end of term.

Schools “still have little idea” what to prepare for in September and discussion has also centred on secondary schools, with primary schools “even more in the dark”.

The DfE has also still not yet “had the courtesy” to confirm schools must spend the first six days of the summer break continuing to contact trace, despite the short notice.

The letter adds: “We appreciate that we continue to be in a dynamic and fast-moving situation, and that many of these decisions need to be taken across government. We do not accept, however, that it is appropriate to continue to treat school and college leaders with what is, frankly, starting to feel like contempt.”

They call for NHS Test and Trace to provide more support to schools and colleges with contact tracing, and “an appropriate public health body” to run on-site testing.

Schools’ role should be limited to providing space and “organising the throughput of students”,  and alternative sites such as mobile test centres or nearby facilities should be used where schools lack appropriate space.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are grateful to everyone who works in education for their tireless work over the course of the pandemic – and for following safety measures to protect public health while maintaining high-quality teaching for pupils.

“We recognise the disruption that a minority of schools and colleges continue to face, which is why we are working across government to relax restrictions and provide clarity on the new approach in line with the wider move to step 4 of the roadmap.”

The spokesperson said further details about plans for September would be made available “as soon as possible”.

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