Family & Education

Concerns over school Covid-19 testing plan

Pajes head said proposed timing puts 'unacceptable burden' on school leaders


The government has been criticised by a Jewish education leader over the timing of its guidance on mass Covid-19 in schools on the last day of term. 

Secondary schools will be asked to start testing pupils from the beginning of the spring term in January in move designed to identify children who show no symptoms of the virus. 

But Rabbi David Meyer, executive director of Pajes, the Jewish Leadership Council’s schools network, had concerns over the implementation of the programme.  

“Pajes has been voicing concerns for a while regarding the potential spread of the virus through secondary school students,” he said. 

“This initiative of widespread testing is welcomed as it will help to monitor the impact of the virus at secondary schools and help reduce the numbers of students in isolation. 

“However the complexities of implementing testing for hundreds of children on a daily basis are considerable. Launching this initiative on the final day of term, with further guidance due out in the midst of the holidays places an unacceptable burden on school leaders.” 

The government announced the testing plan on Tuesday last week, saying that schools and colleges would receive testing kits, including personal protective equipment, and be given “comprehensive guidance and training materials and support to introduce a testing programme that works for staff, students and pupils”. 

On Friday, the last day of term, the Department for Education issued guidance, saying schools would need parental consent for testing children under 16 and that further details of the programme would come “soon”. 

But teacher representatives were strongly critical, with the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, Geoff Barton, saying the plan was “undeliverable” in the timescale. 

Representatives of two Jewish schools on Friday described their reaction to the DfE as “unprintable”. 

One Jewish secondary school, Kantor King Solomon, had early experience of testing when a mobile unit was stationed outside the school for one day on Wednesday. It is located in Redbridge, one of the London boroughs with the highest rate of infection. 

KKS headteacher Hannele Reece said that "it was good to be able to test so many of our students and staff on Wednesday" to support families.

The government’s aim to test students to reduce student and staff absence was, "laudable"” she said. 

But she added, “I do think that telling schools the day some schools break up and the fact that as yet we have no idea where these tests will come from and when suggests that there is a little more planning still to be done on the part of the government. 

“It would be good to be part of a well thought-through plan, I’m not sure we are there yet.” 

Spencer Lewis, executive headteacher of Yavneh College in Hertfordshire, said, the testing scheme  “will in truth not be an easy task but we will have to see how things progress once the new term starts”. 

The government announced the start of the new term in England would be staggered with only years 11 and 13 returning on the original date on January 4 and other years following a week later.

Its decision followed growing calls from London Mayor Sadiq Khan and others for flexibility over opening dates. 

Earlier in the week the government had threatened legal action against councils whichh had wanted schools to close early and teach the final week of term remotely. 

Rabbi Meyer has urged parents to give teachers a well-deserved break and not to contact them during the winter holiday. 

“Implementation of these tests will take time and we would urge parents to show patience, understanding and support for schools as they try to grapple with yet another new challenge.,” he said. 


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