Commenting on arrangements for January confirmed today by the Department for Education, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said:   

“The NEU was amongst the first to ask for mass testing of school pupils. But today’s announcement by Government, made on the last day of term, demonstrates ministerial panic rather than rational and responsible action in response to the exponential rise in Covid-19 infection rates amongst secondary school pupils. 

“The Government is asking secondary school leaders to contact, train and deploy an army of volunteers to administer testing to the whole of England’s secondary school population. Armed with a 30-minute training video they are being asked to administer tests to adolescents – who may have their own views about what is quite an invasive procedure.  Parents will be required to give their consent to their children being tested. They will have to be contacted – in itself, a huge task. 

“The presence of year 11 and 13 pupils on the school site at the same time as the testing arrangements and procedures are being put in place will be extremely problematic. It is highly likely that these pupils will return from their Christmas holiday with higher levels of Covid-19 infection.  Those who test positive will be required to isolate, which involves a huge amount of school staff taking the time to contact parents and to trace close contacts.  Yet again government ministers fail to understand the fundamental issues involved, and the effort and time it takes to operate Covid security procedures in schools. 

“All of these problems are compounded by the findings of the BMJ that half of positive cases are missed if the tests are not done by trained medical personnel.  Governors and parents have an important role to play in children and young people’s education. The majority of them, however, have no medical training. However well intentioned, they will not be able to identify and isolate a significant proportion of Covid cases amongst the secondary school age population – many will be asymptomatic. 

“We are writing to Gavin Williamson today with a series of urgent questions about today’s announcement. 

“This announcement follows a long and ignoble tradition by this government of treating school leaders with contempt. Trust is completely broken. This Government has finally put a seal on an exodus of education professionals in 2021.”