Schools step up Covid tests on pupils and staff
- Credit: Inspiration Trust
Schools across the region have begun Covid testing hundreds pupils and staff, but plans for daily tests as an alternative to self-isolation have been "paused".
Although the majority of students are learning from home, secondary schools and colleges have begun to ramp up the roll-out rigorous testing programmes.
Hewett Academy in Norwich has already processed more than 200 tests, having set up a mass testing centre in its Walter Roy Theatre.
Cromer Academy has so far completed 166 tests, 85 on the children of key workers and vulnerable children, and 81 for staff.
Other Inspiration Trust schools, including Jane Austen College, Great Yarmouth Charter Academy, Hethersett Academy, Thetford Academy and Wayland Academy, have also begun testing.
It comes as the government told schools to pause daily mass coronavirus testing after NHS Test and Trace and Public Health England raised concerns that new, fast-spreading variants of the virus may render contract testing checks ineffective.
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It means mass daily lateral flow tests should no longer be used as a replacement for self-isolation for coronavirus close contacts.
Schools and colleges will now instead test their staff twice weekly and test students twice upon their return to school in a bid to identify those who have coronavirus but do not have symptoms.
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Antony Little, executive principal of Hewett Academy, said its testing would enable students, parents and staff to feel confident that no unnecessary risks were being taken.
He said: “There was a natural amount of nerves, especially from those who had never had a Covid-19 test before, but I think doing the test in a familiar environment with people they knew and trusted really helped.
“We've been so well supported with NHS training and went into this feeling confident about our ability to do this. We had a team of 10 people in the school to make sure it was a quick and safe process to get everyone tested.
“I think that both the staff and the students appreciated this and it gave them a sense of security to know that when we went into the classroom everybody had a negative test.”
Darren Hollingsworth, principal of Cromer Academy, said: “It has been a team effort - we couldn't have implemented the testing programme without the support of our entire team.
"I'm proud to lead a community school during this difficult time. The support from our families has been overwhelming. I'm also pleased to share that our students have approached tests maturely and adapted quickly."
Under the Government’s original plan, hailed by education secretary Gavin Williamson as a "milestone moment" in keeping schools open, pupils and staff in close contact with someone who had tested positive would be tested for seven days and allowed to remain in school if the test was negative.
Former Suffolk head Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL head teachers' union, said: "We are relieved that lateral flow tests have now been paused as an alternative to self-isolation for individuals who have been in close contact with someone who has coronavirus.
"We support the principle of using them for general mass testing of students and staff because this process should pick up at least a proportion of asymptomatic cases and improve safety.
"Our concern was purely over the idea of using them as a worse alternative to the existing self-isolation system for close contacts."
A Department for Education spokesman said: "Daily contact testing, used as an alternative to up to a whole class having to isolate if a positive case is detected, continues to have the potential to be a valuable tool to keep more young people and staff at school, the best place for students' development and wellbeing.
"We will continue pilots to gather further data and to build the evidence base for the programme.
"Regular testing of staff will increase to twice weekly as further reassurance and to help break chains of transmission during this period."