Unions admit they were WRONG on testing in schools

Unions admit they were WRONG to fear schools wouldn’t be able to cope with mass Covid testing of pupils and say system appears to be ‘going well’ after ‘big bang’ return to classrooms in England

  • Pupils across England returned to primary and secondary schools yesterday
  • ‘Big bang’ reopening will see secondary pupils asked to take three tests on-site
  • Some union bosses had expressed concerns about coronavirus testing capacity 

Union bosses have admitted their concerns about coronavirus testing capacity in schools were wrong after pupils returned to classrooms across England yesterday. 

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, had expressed concerns about how mass on-site testing would work with the Government’s ‘big bang’ reopening. 

But last night she said the return to schools appeared to have ‘gone very, very calmly’ and the use of rapid lateral flow tests seemed to be ‘going well’. 

She said that ‘maybe this is one occasion where Gavin Williamson is right and I am wrong’. 

Pupils returned to classrooms across England yesterday as part of the Government’s ‘big bang’ reopening of schools

Union bosses said ‘maybe this is one occasion where Gavin Williamson is right’ after a row over Covid testing capacity

Pupils at primary and secondary schools in England began their return yesterday with the Government banking on mass-testing to ensure a safe reopening.  

Secondary school pupils are being asked to take three voluntary Covid-19 tests on-site and one at home over the first fortnight. 

They will then be sent home-testing kits to use twice-weekly. Primary school children are not being asked to carry out Covid-19 tests.

Some unions had previously called for home testing kits to be supplied in order to avoid schools being turned into ‘field hospitals’.  

Ms Bousted was asked during an interview on Times Radio what she had picked up about how the first day back had gone. 

She said: ‘Very good news, actually. The reports we are getting is that it has gone very, very calmly. 

‘The children are delighted to be back, the teachers are really pleased to see them. 

‘The lateral flow testing to be going well in schools and seems to be going very calmly.

‘And the new thing in secondary schools is mask wearing, generally that appears to be going well as well.’ 

Told that she and other union bosses had previously expressed concerns about testing capacity in schools, Ms Bousted said: ‘I think that school leaders have done a fantastic job in enabling that to happen. 

‘They haven’t been helped by government but as so often during this pandemic, they stepped into the void, they have found the personnel to do it, they have found the space to do it and they are just making it happen. 

‘I suspect also that because they were doing, in secondary schools, the lateral flow testing when they were open for a smaller group of pupils, they got some experience in doing it.’ 

Times Radio host John Pienaar suggested that perhaps Ms Bousted had been wrong on testing and Education Secretary Mr Williamson had been right. 

She said: ‘Maybe I was… but maybe this is one occasion where Gavin Williamson is right and I am wrong. As you know John, if I am wrong I’ll always admit it.’ 

She added: ‘In this particular instance I thought that the testing was going to cause far more difficulties than it has done. 

‘The people I credit for that though are the school leaders and the admin teams who are just making it happen.’

Her comments came as a survey suggested that more than half of secondary schools and colleges in England had seen nearly all their students opt-in for voluntary on-site coronavirus tests as they returned to class. 

A snap poll conducted by the Association of School and College Leaders of more than 700 secondary school and college leaders, found 54 per cent reported a take-up of between 90 per cent and 100 per cent for rapid Covid-19 tests.

Nearly a quarter (24 per cent) have seen a take-up of between 80 per cent and 89 per cent while take-up was below 60 per cent in only six per cent of schools.  

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