UK/December 24, 2020/By: Michael Savage and Donna Ferguson/Source: https://www.theguardian.com/
Schools leaders angered that government gave them little notice that they will have to run a mass testing regime.
Teachers in England were this weekend desperately asking parents with experience using PPE and those with a “medical background” to help oversee pupil Covid tests, amid growing complaints over mass-testing plans.
Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, revealed on Thursday that secondary schools would close their doors to the majority of their pupils in the first week of term in January, so that they can get ready for the mass Covid testing of their pupils.
However, heads are complaining that detailed guidance on how to carry out the tests, as well as parental consent forms, was only made available on Friday evening – the last day of the school term before Christmas. Tests are expected to begin in just over two weeks’ time, but schools are warning they urgently need staff and volunteers.
Schools across England sent letters to parents on Friday giving them information about the testing regime, with many expressing anger at the late notice that the government had given them and the difficulties in carrying out the tests. The Observer has seen letters asking parents with a “medical background” to help out. Other heads asked for volunteers with “experience of PPE”.
Teaching leaders said that rising case numbers meant testing would need to cover huge numbers of pupils by January. Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “When everybody comes back from mixing over Christmas, we anticipate that most of our bubbles will be under pressure. So you’ll probably be testing most of the school community when we come back in that first and second week. You are going to need huge numbers of staff, and they’re bringing this in with no resources at all. It’s just so ill thought through.”
Sam Henson, director of policy and information at the National Governance Association, warned that headteachers could end up working on Christmas Day to put plans in place. He told the BBC that the plans put a “huge degree of pressure” on school leaders: “We’ve ended up in a situation where the public are led to believe schools have been told they have to do this and they’re being resourced to do this. We need to get the facts clear.”
The Department for Education said that it knew the task of mass testing was challenging, and thanked school staff for their efforts to deliver it.
Meanwhile, new data obtained by the Observer shows students in their final year of GCSEs have been unable to attend school every day this academic year in two-thirds of English state schools, with pupils in deprived areas hit the hardest. A school attendance gap is opening up between the richest and poorest students due to the pandemic, the survey of more than 4,300 secondary school teachers suggests.
While at most private schools (51%) no year 11 students has been forced to self-isolate and miss school this year, the same can only be said for year 11 pupils at 33% of state schools.
The data shows GCSE pupils attending schools in deprived areas of the country are the most likely to have been forced to take time off: 57% of teachers at schools in the most deprived areas said that, at some point this term, they have had to either send the whole of year 11 home or close at least one year 11 class or “bubble”. Only a third of teachers working in private schools reported needing to take such measures.
The survey, by survey website TeacherTapp, also found regional differences in the amount of schooling that GCSE students have been missing. Just one in five teachers in the north-west have taught all of their year 11 pupils face-to-face every day since September, compared with about half of teachers in the south-west and the east of England.
Co-founder of TeacherTapp, Laura McInerney, said it would be ridiculous to think these differences would not have an effect on outcomes for pupils. For example, she said, in about 40% of schools in the north-west of England, the entire GCSE year group had had to isolate at home at some point over the past term.
“Compare this to private schools, where only 20% of schools have isolated all their GCSE students, and it adds up to a significant difference in disruption and teaching time suffered by different pupils. Given that private schools more speedily shifted their curriculum online during the spring lockdown, due to having better access to technology, state school pupils are really going to have their work cut out for them to catch up.”
Docente - Investigadora Educativa.
Doctora en Cs. de la Educación, Magíster en Desarrollo Curricular y Licenciada en Relaciones Industriales.