Mass COVID testing impossible without funding for extra staff say Havering schools

Havering schools insist a lack of funding will make it impossible for them to carry out mass COVID testing of staff and students.

The Department of Education is sending rapid-result tests to primary schools from Monday January 18 and has been sending them to secondary schools and colleges throughout the month.

At the Havering Schools Funding Forum yesterday (January 14), a number of head teachers said it would be impossible to actually use the tests without money to hire more staff.

Much of extra COVID funding for schools is only available if they have less than four per cent of their annual revenue left, which the forum’s chairman noted meant “not many” would qualify.

Yesterday (January 14), the UK’s health regulator the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) refused to approve the plans for mass-testing in schools, suggesting it could provide false reassurance for those who test negative.

Neil Frost, head teacher of Marshalls Park Academy, said: “We want to be supportive of public health, we want to do the right thing, but actually the cost is going to make it so that we can’t.

“The cost of really large mass-scale testing of staff, particularly contact tracing, is simply unsustainable in terms of the amount of money a day.

“We have had a good number of volunteers but that’s not the same as having someone there every day.

“My school is happy to employ one person… but we won’t be able to afford any other members of staff because we just know that we will burn through that money so quickly.”

COVID tests were sent to secondary schools and colleagues first but, in a tweet on January 13, the Department of Education announced it would send them to primary schools from next week.

Trevor Cook, from Havering Education Services, confirmed he “learned about this looking at the Department of Education’s Twitter feed” and the council had received no more information yet.

Nelmes Primary School head teacher Kirsten Cooper remarked she was unsure how they would “magic this up” and understood parents may be expected to test children at home.

Suttons Primary head teacher David Unwin-Bailey agreed it would be “financially… very difficult” for his school to carry out weekly tests on staff members.

He said: “I have no support staff, it’s going to have to come down to my deputy-head or myself.”

The Department of Education’s website confirms “testing is voluntary” but could be offered to students, staff and also the close contacts of any students or staff that test positive.

The website notes that “this ensures that they do not need to isolate and are able to continue to benefit from high quality, face to face education”.

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter