School leader unions have written a joint letter to the Prime Minister to express their concerns about testing “chaos”, amid fears that keeping schools open will become “unsustainable” if the problems regarding testing are not rectified soon.
Schools across the country are struggling to cope due to the lack of coronavirus tests, with the “increasingly out of control” situation threatening to force widespread school closures in the coming weeks.
That’s the warning from education unions after thousands of pupils have been sent home to self-isolate following positive COVID-19 test results in their year group bubbles.
Many headteachers have reported that staff shortages are already causing significant issues within schools, as the difficulties in accessing tests and the long delays in getting results means teachers are having to stay at home for prolonged periods – even if they eventually test negative.
Responding to the rapidly escalating crisis, education secretary Gavin Williamson said that every school has been provided with 10 home test kits and more kits have been made available for schools to order from 8am on Wednesday morning.
However, the Department of Education admitted it could not say how many kits would be made available to schools in the coming days, and school leaders have expressed scepticism about whether a large enough number would be made available quickly enough to cope with the surge in demand.
The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) have joined forces with school leaders’ union NAHT and the National Governance Association to write a joint letter to the Prime Minister expressing their concerns over the testing “chaos”.
Today school leaders and governors associations @NAHTnews @ASCL_UK & @NGAMedia have written to the Prime Minister with a plea to sort out the #Covid_19 testing chaos:https://t.co/55GaphfYLT#CovidTesting #COVID19 #coronavirusuk #coronavirus #TestingScandal #TestandTrace
— NAHT (@NAHTnews) September 16, 2020
In the letter, the three associations warn of a “deep sense of foreboding about the potential for the system to become ever-more riddled with delays” and call on the Prime Minister to personally take charge of the situation.
The letter concludes: “We are sure you agree that schools and colleges have done a fantastic job in putting in place complex safety systems in order to reopen to millions of children and young people. They now need the government to step up to the plate.”
The joint letter is signed by Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL); Paul Whiteman, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT); and Emma Knights, chief executive of the National Governance Association (NGA).
The general secretary of teaching union NASUWT, Dr Patrick Roach, has also called on the government to prioritise the education sector when it comes to allocating tests, saying the situation is “increasingly out of control”.
In a letter to schools’ minister Nick Gibb, Dr Roach said that members of NASUWT have reported that there are around 600 children in just one local authority in Bury who are now self-isolating away from school, and he said the “number is growing”.
Since the start of term earlier this month at least 300 schools across England and Wales have reported having to send some year groups home following positive COVID-19 tests, while another 30 have had to shut completely over the past two weeks.