Teachers have hit out at fresh confusion over the return of pupils and staff after Christmas following an announcement by the government of a staggered start in January to allow the roll-out of mass testing for coronavirus.
One teacher said it was “pretty disgusting” that the late notice meant teachers would end up working over the Christmas break to prepare for remote learning, adding that it was ‘naive’ to suggest that volunteers would take the weight of mass testing when it would undoubtedly impact on teachers.
The government’s announcement on Thursday came on the day many schools were breaking up for Christmas, sparking anger at the lack of time given to heads and teachers to prepare.
Teaching unions branded the announcement “chaotic and rushed”, saying it was impossible to put the right systems in place given the short notice.
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Sarah Smyth, who is head of year at a South London secondary school, told Yahoo News UK: “Most schools were breaking up yesterday afternoon so that leaves absolutely no time whatsoever to put any plans in place.
“So what they are clearly expecting is that headteachers and school leadership are going to do this over the Christmas break - when it’s never been needed more - which I think is pretty disgusting.”
On Friday schools minister Nick Gibb told Sky News that teachers will not have to play a role in coronavirus testing in schools, but Smyth said his comments were “naive”.
“This news today about them saying teachers aren’t going to be responsible for delivering the tests, that’s just the most naive statement in the world,” she added, pointing out that even if volunteers did run testing in schools, it would inevitably impact on teachers, from manning queues to dealing with any related issues.
“In terms of manpower, it won’t change anything. You will still need to have a member of staff managing those lines and queues, or comforting the child who is crying.
“It’s just naive to say ‘don’t worry, other people will do that’, because they won’t be able to.”
Tom, head of Year 7 at a south-east London secondary school, said news of the staggered return in January had come as a “massive surprise” and seemed like a complete “turnaround” by the government, which last week ordered schools in Greenwich to stay open.
“It seems like a complete turnaround,” said Tom. “We all know the last week of term not a lot happens so if you took that last week off then children might miss one or two lessons, but it would have a lesser impact on teaching and learning than this.
“My first lesson back in January isn’t a lesson you can chuck online, it’s the start of a new term, a new topic.”
Some year groups may already have done some remote learning but others haven’t, he said, so the late notice means they will start term in January with no time to introduce them to new systems.
Like Smyth, he said the impact of the late notice will fall on teachers who will be forced to prepare over the Christmas break, when they have already been under “relentless” pressure, including working at weekends to inform parents of Test & Trace issues if a child is found to have tested positive for coronavirus.
Teachers unions also voiced concerns about the late notice, saying it was impossible to implement.
A joint statement from the NAHT, the Association of School and College Leaders, the National Education Union, the NASUWT, the Association of Colleges, the National Governance Association and The Church of England Education Office, said: “All our organisations are supportive of the concept of the use of lateral flow tests in schools. Many of our organisations have been actively calling for such tests for some time.
“However, 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.
“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.
“It is our understanding that the mass testing pilots government has run in schools and colleges to date have involved members of the armed forces or other external trained staff setting up and running the tests. This appears not to be the case for the latest proposals.
“The suggestion that schools can safely recruit, train and organise a team of suitable volunteers to staff and run testing stations on their premises by the start of the new term is simply not realistic.
“All our organisations agree that educational staff have once again been put in an impossible position as a result of this latest announcement.”
The statement added: “Given that the government’s own guidance makes it clear this is an optional offer, no school or college should come under pressure if they are unable to implement these plans, or if they believe it would be unsafe to do so.”
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