UNISON responds to COVID testing plans for English schools

National schools committee describes UK government’s announcement, made on the last day of term, that some secondaries will be expected to start next term online, as “jaw-dropping”

UNISON’s national schools committee has today released a statement in response to the UK government’s announcements of mass testing in secondary schools in England next month, with some of those schools expected to move to online learning from 4 January as classroom returns are staggered to allow the testing regime to be set up.

The statement reads: “UNISON believes this is hugely ambitious and that announcing this on the last day of term is jaw-dropping and gives schools very little time to plan. We think that most schools will not be able to deliver this.”

UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: “In the afternoon on the last day of term, the government has chosen to dump more work onto schools and their staff.

“Schools have spent the last term battered and bruised by constant government flip flops and last-minute, major changes. Now they are supposed to take on another huge, complicated and mostly unknown venture.”

He continued: “UNISON is clear that this should not be at the expense of the education of pupils nor the safety of staff – either by increased risk of infection or additional tasks on top of an already crushing workload.”

The statement details the committee’s position, which includes the following points:

  • the union supports mass testing in schools to try stop the spread of the virus (on a sensible timetable);
  • any testing site in a school must be fully planned and risk assessed with union engagement;
  • staff should only undertake the testing duty if they volunteer, and if they are comfortable with their competence after appropriate training – in line with Department for Education guidance, Supporting pupils at school with medical conditions;
  • staff involved in the testing programme should have correct personal protective equipment, appropriate clinical oversight and clear guarantees around any potential liabilities;
  • the work of staff volunteering to participate should not be passed to other current staff, who are already overworked;
  • any additional staff time must be fully paid at the appropriate rate.
  • Due to the reported high percentage of false negatives generated by the ‘lateral flow test’ being proposed, it should only be used as an additional measure. Bubbles and self-isolation, alongside all additional other safety measures, should be retained for the foreseeable future.
  • Staff asked to take a test themselves as part of a mass lateral flow testing programme where cases have not been identified may do so voluntarily, but it should not be compulsory. UNISON encourages staff to participate fully in the testing programme.

The committee has secured a meeting with the Department for Education and NHS Test and Trace, which will take place on Tuesday 22 December.

Read the full response here