Exclusive: Schools accused of 'blackmailing' parents into giving testing consent

Camilla Turner
·4-min read
Prime Minister Boris Johnson joins a Year 2 maths lesson during a visit to St Mary's CE Primary School in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, to see how they are preparing for students to return. Picture date: Monday March 1, 2021. PA Photo. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Christopher Furlong/PA Wire - Christopher Furlong/PA Wire
Prime Minister Boris Johnson joins a Year 2 maths lesson during a visit to St Mary's CE Primary School in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, to see how they are preparing for students to return. Picture date: Monday March 1, 2021. PA Photo. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Christopher Furlong/PA Wire - Christopher Furlong/PA Wire

Secondary schools have been accused of “blackmailing” parents into giving consent for tests after being told their children will be banned from face-to-face lessons if they refuse.

Some headteachers have written to parents explaining that any pupils who do not agree to take lateral flow tests at the start of term will be segregated from their peers.

Parents have said they are “gobsmacked” by their school’s stance, adding that they feel as though they are being subjected to “coercion bordering on blackmail”.

All secondary school students will be offered four lateral flow tests during the first two weeks of term, three of which will take place at school and one will be taken at home.

Students will be allowed to continue coming to school as long as their tests are negative, but will be asked to go home and isolate if they have a positive result, ministers have said.

They will then also be asked to take two lateral flow tests each week at home and report their results to teachers at school. If they get a positive result, they will need to immediately isolate and follow it up with a confirmatory PCR test.

Teenagers aged 16-18 will be able to provide their own consent but for children under the age of 16, parental consent for testing is required.

Official guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) says that the lateral flow tests are "voluntary", adding: "Pupils not undergoing testing should attend school in line with your phased return arrangements. Schools will have discretion on how to test students over that week as they return to the classroom."

However, The Telegraph has learned that schools have already started telling parents that their children will be banned from class if they do not consent to the tests.

Val Mason, headteacher at Hornchurch High School in Havering, wrote to parents saying: “If you do not provide consent your child will not be permitted to return to face-to-face lessons. They will instead be required to complete their work remotely whilst being accommodated on the school site in a separate space.”

One parent said he was “gobsmacked”, adding: “The salient point was if you do not provide consent, you will not be allowed to take part in normal lessons.

“This is coercion bordering on blackmail. I have printed off the Government guidance and it very clearly says it should be voluntary.”

The parent added: “My child doesn’t want to be separated from her friends or missing out on more teaching time. We should be free to make informed consent without any strings attached.”

Timeline of restrictions - what opens and when
Timeline of restrictions - what opens and when

Mr Mason said that all pupils will be taught the "full curriculum" and that the school's risk control measures will be reviewed at Easter.

Meanwhile, Blenheim High School in Epsom, Surrey told parents that all pupils are “required” to undertake testing before returning to the classroom, adding that if they refuse they will have to continue to remote education.

Anthony Bodell, the headmaster, wrote to families saying: “Any students not consenting to being tested will continue with remote learning from March 8, which will involve some electronic access to the face-to-face lessons occurring in school.”

He said the situation will be reviewed on March 18.

The Stonehenge School in Amesbury, Wiltshire, has told parents that if they do not give consent for their children to be tested, they will be physically segregated from their peers.

Nigel Roper, the school’s headmaster, told parents: “Please understand that the Government’s decision to reopen schools to all students is based on a clear assumption that mass testing takes place.

“A child refusing to take part in testing won’t be refused entry into school, but will not be allowed to sit next to other children – who have been tested – in any of their lessons.”

Mr Roper told The Telegraph: "Obviously testing is optional and children will attend the same lessons, all we are doing is adjusting the seating plan so a child isn't forced against their will to sit next to someone who hasn't been tested."

A DfE spokesman said that they encourage all parents to consent to their children being tested.

But they added: “Where parents do not consent, schools and colleges should ask those students to return at the same time as their year group and no later than Monday, March 15, and they should not otherwise be denied education.

“Whenever it becomes clear schools are not following our guidance, our regional schools commissioner teams work with the relevant academy trust or local authority to make sure they do so.”