Headteachers warn 740 schools have been forced to shut or send pupils home because of Covid testing fiasco as thousands of youngsters self isolate at home
- Steve Chalke, head of Oasis Academies Trust, made the alarming claim today
- PM faced mounting pressure to solve the widespread lack of access to swabs
- Three unions representing headteachers and governors have written to the PM
Britain’s testing fiasco has forced 740 schools to send children home, an academy chain boss revealed today amid warnings from teachers the situation is getting ‘out of control’.
Steve Chalke, the head of Oasis Academies Trust, made the alarming claim as Boris Johnson faced mounting pressure to get a grip over widespread lack of access to swabs.
Three unions representing headteachers and governors have written to the Prime Minister urging him ‘take charge’ of Government efforts to ramp up testing capacity.
They say the inability of pupils an staff to get a swab have put some heads in an ‘impossible situation’ after grappling with symptomatic pupils and staff struggling to access tests.
Mr Johnson has declared the return of lessons a ‘national priority’ and the Department for Education earlier this week trumpeted that 99.9 per cent of schools have reopened.
But Mr Chalke cautioned that ‘sending them [children] back is not the same thing as staying in school.’
Three unions representing headteachers and governors have written to the Prime Minister urging him ‘take charge’ of Government efforts to ramp up testing capacity Pictured above are people queuing for a test in Southend-on-Sea
The founder of Oasis Academies Trust, which runs 52 schools, said he had been told 740 schools had been forced to either close or send children home, according to the Sun.
Writing in the newspaper, he said: ‘These are kids who have a mountain to climb after the schools shutdown – they have lost confidence.’
The startling statistic, which has not yet been verified by the Department for Education, heaps more pressure on ministers to find a solution to the lack of testing.
Mr Chalke had already revealed eight of his schools have had to send home a total of 1,200 pupils to self-isolate, including whole year groups.
Britain’s testing fiasco has forced 740 schools to send children home, according to Steve Chalke
Teacher unions have written to the PM to voice ‘frustration’ that parents are not able to get swabs for their children.
The letter – from the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), school leaders’ union NAHT and the National Governance Association (NGA) – warns heads are in an ‘impossible situation’.
The ASCL said it has received 264 responses from schools and colleges in recent days where leaders have said they have symptomatic staff and/or pupils who were struggling to access tests.
‘Schools are left in a position of either leaving close contacts of the infected person in school while they wait for guidance, or making a public health call themselves and deciding on who to send home,’ the letter says.
But addressing concerns about testing when appearing before the Commons Education Committee on Wednesday, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said each school was given 10 home-testing kits at the start of term and schools can now order more kits from the NHS directly.
Rob Halfon, chairman of the committee, asked if he could ‘guarantee’ that pupils and teachers who need local Covid-19 tests would be able to get them within 48 hours in the event of outbreaks.
But Mr Williamson replied: ‘Schools are, I think, the only organisation that actually has a set of testing kits that have been sent to them directly in order to be able to ensure that if they are in a situation where someone isn’t in a position to be able to get a test, then they actually have testing kits on site.’
Schools have been hit with Covid-19 cases since it became compulsory for pupils to return.
A woman uses an umbrella to shelter from the sun as she waits for a coronavirus test outside a community centre in Bury
Pictured is one of academies boss Steve Chalke’s schools, which sent 240 pupils home
Boris Johnson faced mounting pressure to get a grip over widespread lack of access to swabs
Some have closed their doors days after reopening while others have told whole year groups and classes to self-isolate for two weeks following confirmed cases.
In a letter to schools minister Nick Gibb, Dr Roach said: ‘Schools appear to be seeking to do their utmost to carry on.
‘However, we have reports that schools are unable to cope with a situation that is becoming increasingly out of control.’
Local authorities across the country – including in the North West of England – are struggling to cope with the demand for tests from schools, he added.
Dr Roach said: ‘In particular, areas where additional local restrictions have been introduced due to the increase in the R-number are now unable to cope with demand for tests.
‘Teachers, support staff and children and young people are unable to access tests where they have Covid-19 symptoms.
‘Employers are struggling to deal with the implications and consequences.’
The letter says members have reported that hundreds of pupils in Bury are self-isolating, while Salford council has been inundated with requests for tests from schools.
The Mayor of Greater Manchester said around 110 schools in the area had reported coronavirus cases.
A poll from the GMB union suggests only half (51 per cent) of school staff have had training on Covid-19 health and safety measures and working practices – including infection control and correct use of PPE.
Stuart Fegan, national officer of GMB, said it is ‘shocking’ that large numbers of school staff are missing basic health and safety training around Covid-19 since schools had fully reopened
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