Teaching union slams Government’s ‘undeliverable’ mass testing plans


A teaching union has sabotaged the government’s plans to roll-out mass coronavirus testing to secondary schools and colleges and told members not to work on them over Christmas.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said the ‘last minute’ announcement of the testing proposals before the festive break made the scheme ‘undeliverable’. 

Furthermore, another education sector body warned the plan could see headteachers working on Christmas Day in order to put everything in place. 

Ministers said the return of most students to classrooms next month will be delayed to allow schools to put in place a mass testing regime, with most children starting the year with online learning.

The kibosh comes despite fears that rising cases and deaths stem, at least partly, from widespread transmission in schools.

But those voicing opposition said it was ‘beyond belief’ that the testing requirement has been imposed on schools ‘in such a cack-handed manner’. 

The Government announced this week that pupils’ return to secondary schools and colleges will be staggered in January to allow for the roll-out of a mass coronavirus testing programme 

The four main teaching unions and the National Governance Association urged staff in a statement to put off preparations until term starts again in the new year.

It added that they should also refuse to work on the scheme while on their days off over Christmas. 

‘It is our view that due to the chaotic and rushed nature of this announcement, the lack of proper guidance and an absence of appropriate support, the government’s plan in its current form will be inoperable for most schools and colleges,’ the statement said.

‘Schools and colleges simply do not have the staffing capacity to carry this out themselves. As such, most will not be in a position to carry this out in a safe and effective manner.’

But the Department for Education is so desperate to complete its own work on the programme that civil servants have been offered a £1,000 bonus if they volunteer to work over Christmas, the Guardian reports.

Additional payments are not being offered for school staff working over the holidays though, according to the paper, with leaders told to remain on call until December 23 to track and trace pupils testing positive for the virus at the end of term.   

Sam Henson, director of policy and information at the National Governance Association (NGA), said more detail was needed by teachers on how new coronavirus testing systems would be implemented in schools by the new year. 

Speaking to BBC Breakfast on Saturday, Mr Henson said teachers were ‘told at the 11th hour that they are going to have to deliver on something that they don’t have the detail for.

‘What we’re going to end up with is headteachers and school leaders across the country working on Christmas Day and Boxing Day to put these plans in place.’ 

It comes as Robert Halfon, the Tory chairman of the Education Select Committee, has blasted the staggered return of pupils as he said it will result in ‘more lost learning’ and will ‘sow confusion’.    

But unions have slammed the testing plans as 'undeliverable' while senior Tory MP Robert Halfon said the staggered return will 'sow confusion'

But unions have slammed the testing plans as ‘undeliverable’ while senior Tory MP Robert Halfon said the staggered return will ‘sow confusion’

The Government has announced that secondary school and college pupils’ return to class in England will be staggered in the first week of January to help headteachers roll-out mass testing of students.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said the tests will be administered by volunteers and agency staff, rather than teachers, and further details on how it will work will be published next week – when most schools are closed for Christmas. 

The plans to start lessons online for secondary school and college students – apart from exam-year pupils, key workers’ children and vulnerable youngsters – were announced on the final day of term for many schools. 

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: ‘The plans outlined at the last minute by the Government for mass testing in schools and colleges from the start of the spring term are undeliverable in that timescale, and it is beyond belief that they were landed on school and college leaders in such a cack-handed manner.

‘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.’

The decision to stagger the return of pupils means teachers will now have to develop online lesson plans over the Christmas break.  

Experts have warned online learning during the coronavirus crisis has had a significant impact on children’s development and there are growing concerns over extending the provisions further. 

Mr Halfon tweeted: ‘Around 5 million pupils now miss a week+ school in Jan. This is after millions of children lost months of learning during 1st lockdown.

‘This wrongheaded decision by [the Department for Education] for Secondary staggered starts = more lost learning, sows confusion & is logistically challenging.’

He added: ‘Above all it hurts left-behind pupils who need to be in school as we know remote learning is pretty varied. As Chief Inspector [of Ofsted] has said, ‘one day of national school closure works out at about 40,000 child years of education in total’.’

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, warned that schools will ‘struggle to have testing ready for the start of term’ if details on how it will work are not released until after Christmas.

Mr Gibb told BBC Breakfast the Government will release ‘very detailed guidance’ about what needs to be in place for testing next week, and acknowledged there will be ‘work to do’ over the next fortnight.

He added: ‘The logistics for carrying out those tests will be volunteers and agency workers so it won’t be teachers that will be carrying out the tests.’

Teaching unions have also criticised the Government’s decision not to require volunteers to have background checks before administering tests to children.

Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of teaching union NASUWT, said: ‘Aside from the issue of how these volunteers are even going to be recruited, the idea that they will not be required to undertake DBS checks when they will be on school premises working with children is outrageous.’

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson made the announcement yesterday that the majority of secondary school and college pupils will start the term online and all face-to-face lessons will resume on January 11.   

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