COVID-19: Teachers won't have to play role in coronavirus testing in schools, minister confirms

·2-min read

Teachers will not have to play a role in coronavirus testing in schools, a minister has told Sky News, amid confusion over how pupils will return after Christmas.

"Teachers are already fully occupied...they already have their hands full," schools minister Nick Gibb said.

The return of secondary school and college pupils will be staggered in the first week of January, the government announced yesterday.

Students set to take exams will go back as normal after Christmas, but the majority of those in secondary school will begin the term with online learning.

Primary school pupils will go back to school as normal in January, alongside vulnerable pupils and key workers' children.

Face-to-face education for all students will return on 11 January.

The plan is to use the staggered return to allow schools to roll out mass testing of children and staff - but the announcement seemed to come as a surprise to headteachers, who have expressed concern about late notice and lack of clarity.

Two rapid tests will be offered to those students attending classes, at three days apart, with positive results confirmed by a lab-based PCR test.

Those with a positive test will be required to self-isolate in line with existing regulations.

Mr Gibb said this will be planned by the Armed Forces and administered by volunteers and agency workers.

"People are very community minded, this is a national effort," he added.

"This is about our priority for education, making sure children are in the classroom, getting lessons."

His comments come after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said in a written ministerial statement that schools and colleges would need to "provide a few members of staff to support the testing programme".

A headteachers' union has said it will not be possible to recruit and train all the volunteers required to administer coronavirus tests.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the "last minute" plans were "undeliverable" in the timescale envisaged by ministers.

"It is beyond belief that they were landed on school and college leaders in such a cack-handed manner," he said.

"It is not possible to recruit and train all the people needed to carry out tests, and put in place the processes that would be necessary, over the Christmas period, and it is extremely regrettable that the government has given the public an expectation that this will happen."

Dr Mary Bousted of the National Education Union (NEU) said the announcement "demonstrates ministerial panic rather than rational and responsible action in response to the exponential rise in COVID-19 infection rates amongst secondary school pupils".

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said schools would be "really frustrated this has come at the last moment".

"What we needed for schools was a plan that started last September and what we have had is one problem after another all through to the Christmas period," he said.