Teachers Say The Testing Crisis Is Already Hitting Schools So Hard They May Have To Close Down
Teachers have described the chaos of the coronavirus testing crisis now hitting schools, with some saying the diffculties caused by those unable to get tests is already so severe they may have to shut their doors.
Testimony sent to the National Association of Headteachers by school staff, seen exclusively by PoliticsHome, has revealed the impact of children and their parents missing up to 10 days of school as they self-isolate after struggling to get tests.
Teachers say they are now having to consider whether to keep schools open as testing options become increasingly limited and people are being directed hundreds of miles from their homes to test centres.
Emily Proffitt, head of Cooper Perry Primary in Staffordshire and who sits on the national executive of the NAHT, told Politics Home: "My big concern is the sporadic nature of learning now. It will be disjointed. We are doing the best we can in a very challenging situation that we have no control over.
"I've had children off for five days as their parents try and get them a test. Another parent came to get their child at the gate and said their dad is presenting symptoms and it doesn't look like they can get a test, so she said I'll just have to see you in two weeks. So a child that's just come back to school, [...] is now missing two weeks."
"I've also got a real concern parents are going to get fed up with this. So far they are brilliant, reporting symptoms and taking their children out of school but if they can't get tests they are obviously missing work as well, so will they send in their children with symptoms?"
She said many children may have coughs and colds which typically happen in the autumn term but she has to suggest parents get their children tested, and added that some of her staff had been able to get tests done over a weekend at the start of the month. She worries that if they cannot be screened in the future they might also be absent because of isolation.
Schools have been issued with ten testing kits from the government but they are only to be used in an absolute emergency and reserved for the most vulnerable children whose parents or carers may not take them for tests.
One head teacher in Birmingham told the union: "I am beginning to need to use my emergency test kits - two given out so far, some schools I have spoken [to] are already down to their final one. I've heard that there is no plan to issue schools with any more.
"As the re-opening of schools relied on the availability of rapid test and trace, I am considering our position on the safety of keeping my school open once I am down to the last few test kits, especially when parents are being directed to Scotland or Oldham currently as their 'nearest test centre'."
A head teacher from a primary school in Northern Ireland told the union that they are now struggling to staff classes.
"One of our teachers presented with symptoms and has still not been tested, two days later. Two of our special needs assistants have also been waiting several days for a test. As they both support very vulnerable pupils, these children are being disadvantaged with learning as we have not been able to employ replacements."
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Tests need to be readily available for everyone so that pupils and staff who test negative can get back into school quickly. The government assured us that this would be ready, but at the first sign of stress it seems to be falling over.
"This will put the successful and sustainable return to school at serious risk. It is unacceptable for this to happen when schools have put so much effort into getting their part of the plan right, and when pupils have had to endure so much uncertainty and disruption already.”
A government spokesperson said the government's testing capacity is the highest it has ever been, but they are seeing a significant demand for tests.
They said: "It is vital that children and school staff only get a test if they develop coronavirus symptoms.
“If a positive case is confirmed in a school, swift action is being taken to ask those who have been in close contact to self-isolate, and Public Health England’s local health protection teams continue to support and advise schools in this situation.
“Children who are self-isolating will receive remote education. We will continue to work with schools to ensure all appropriate steps are taken to keep pupils and staff safe.”
They said anyone who is self-isolating as a result of being a close contact of a confirmed case, but does not have symptoms should not request a test. This includes if that case was identified in school or college.
Once self-isolation periods conclude, education settings must not require confirmation of negative test results before admitting or re-admitting students or staff.
The DHSC will also be emailing all schools and colleges with details of how to access additional test kits. An order may be placed each month.