All England’s secondary schools and colleges today received up to 1,000 Covid tests to get children back into class – just as Boris Johnson prepared to keep them all shut into February.
Staff at secondaries across the country started unpacking the kits after the Prime Minister admitted that reopening them on January 18 may be delayed because of the fast spread of the mutant strain of coronavirus.
Primary schools are also set to be sent more tests for staff in the next few weeks – but the children will not have to be swabbed if they are allowed back to class.
But Mr Johnson is set to unveil a brutal new national lockdown tonight in a desperate bid to keep the mutant coronavirus at bay while vaccines are rolled out – including a blanket schools closure.
Students at the University of Hull have arrived back on campus and were pictured swabbing themselves for coronavirus after Christmas at home with their families. It is not known if they will have to leave Humberside again.
John Murphy CEO of Oasis Community Learning and Catrin Green, Principal, unbox COVID-19 testing kits and rubber gloves at Oasis Academy Coulsdon, south London today. Every secondary school and college will receive 1,000 testing kits in the post today with students expected to swab themselves under supervision when they return
A student takes a COVID-19 test at a mass testing site which has re-opened at the University of Hull in East Yorkshire, to ensure a safe return to campus after the Christmas break
Boris Johnson (pictured today at Chase Farm Hospital in north London) says he had had ‘no doubt’ that classrooms were safe but many headteachers have ignored him and closed anyway leading to the PM hinting he may now shut secondaries into February
Covid class war: Now Boris Johnson hints secondary pupils won’t return until FEBRUARY
Boris Johnson visits Chase Farm Hospital and greets a pensioner given the Covid-19 vaccine as he faces growing pressure to shut schools and impose a new national lockdown
Boris Johnson today hinted he may order England’s secondary schools to close through the whole of January – but will fight to keep most primaries open – as teaching unions united to try to shut down all of the UK’s 32,000 schools immediately.
Headteachers have already revolted en masse against Mr Johnson’s insistence that ‘schools are safe’ leaving millions of parents to homeschool their children for at least a fortnight and millions more unsure if their children will soon be at home too.
All of Britain’s teaching unions today called for classroom teaching to be ‘paused’ until staff are vaccinated. In a joint statement the leaders of the GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, UNISON and Unite unions have said they want ‘an immediate nationwide move to remote education for all pupils in primary, secondary and special schools and colleges’.
On a visit to a London hospital to see the rollout of the new Oxford University/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, Mr Johnson hinted that secondaries may shut for longer when closures are reviewed before January 18 – and insisted the risk to teachers from Covid was no greater than to anyone else working during the pandemic.
‘We will have to look very hard at what we do with secondary schools later in the month. Closing primary schools is, for all of us, a last resort. That’s why we are looking at everything else we can possibly do to avoid that. I would stress schools are safe and the risk to kids is very, very small’, he said.
The Prime Minister added: ‘The risk to teachers, and of course we will do everything we can to protect teachers, but the risk to teachers is no greater than it is to anyone else. The reasons for wanting to keep schools open I think are very, very powerful.’
All schools in London are closed today along with the majority of Covid-19 hotspots in Essex, Kent, East Sussex, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire after a Department for Education diktat last week. But headteachers told to remain open in areas such as in Surrey, Gloucestershire, Newcastle, Norfolk, Liverpool, County Durham, West Sussex, Sheffield, Wolverhampton, Leeds and Lancashire have shut down anyway.
The Oasis Trust will be piloting the testing in three of its schools in London and Bristol.
John Murphy, CEO of Oasis Trust, who unpacked the kits in their Coulsdon school today said: ‘What we know for sure is that our young people make the best progress with quality first teaching, with their teachers, in the classroom with their friends.
‘Therefore, once effectively delivered, we are assured that mass testing in schools will provide additional confidence to our children, parents, teachers and staff, and has the potential to greatly reduce disruption to learning, alongside our existing Covid controls.
‘In January we will be piloting the testing in a number of our schools before implementing this to all our secondary academies across the country.’
Once up and running, rapid testing will be available to students and staff who are close contacts of those who test positive, according to the Department for Education (DfE).
Testing is repeated every weekday for seven days and weekly testing will be available for staff.
Schools began to receive initial deliveries of up to 1,000 test kits on Monday, the DfE said, with more arriving later in the week along with a handbook and ‘how to’ guide to setting up a test site.
It said schools will also be provided with comprehensive online training modules with 1,500 military personnel on hand to provide advice and guidance on establishing the process.
Schools will be expected to test staff and students already on site from next week ahead of the planned return of most children for face-to-face teaching in the week beginning January 18.
Newcastle Sixth Form College said it will begin testing staff from Tuesday.
Principal Gerard Garvey said: ‘Setting up for large-scale testing at short notice was challenging, but well worth the effort as we recognised the benefits that close contact testing could have in reducing the number of students and teachers who were out of college self-isolating.
‘We plan to continue daily testing as soon as we have staff and/or students back in college and hope to continue this for as long as Covid-19 continues to pose a threat to the education of young people.’
Students arriving at University of Hull were today urged to get a test as soon as they arrive in the city after spending the festive period at home with families to control the spread of the virus.
While most students are not expected back on campus until January 25, hundreds were booked in for the first day of voluntary testing from this morning.
Some students returned to campus earlier, such as those starting work placements or those whose course requires specialist equipment.
The programme will run throughout January as staff try to contain the spread of the virus after a nationwide surge plunged more areas into tougher restrictions.
Staff are also able to have a free, self-administered, ten-minute test in the university’s sports hall ahead of a return to lessons.
Professor Susan Lea, Vice-Chancellor at the university, said: ‘To ensure we continue to keep the University and local community safe, we will once again be supporting the Government’s National Testing Programme to test those who do not have symptoms, by offering a mass testing programme on campus.
‘Lateral Flow tests will be available from January 4 – and we are really encouraging our staff and students to be tested – to help reduce the risk of transmission.’
Catrin Green Principal and John Murphy CEO of Oasis Community Learning unboxes COVID-19 testing kits at Oasis Academy
Naomi Carpenter, a 20-year-old sports rehab student at Hull University, takes a swab for a lateral flow Covid-19 test at the campus sports facilities as students return to the university
The area in red is where the Government ordered all schools to shut. The areas in pink are where headteachers have shut down anyway
Before the winter break, the university carried out more than 2,600 tests and returned only two positive ones.
Hull, like all of Yorkshire and the Humber, is in Tier 3 of the government’s Coronavirus restrictions, but a surge in cases has prompted fears it could be put into Tier 4.
Professor Lea added: ‘We anticipate this next round of testing will once again help give students and staff the confidence that they can return to campus while keeping friends, classmates and colleagues safe.
‘I would like to thank all of our students who have participated in our mass testing programme to date – their support in ensuring we help reduce the transmission of the virus is very much appreciated by us all.
‘I would also like to pay tribute to the hard work, energy and commitment of all the staff and students involved in setting up the centre and delivering an excellent service within a very tight timeframe – the success of the centre is as a result of their dedication.
‘From the onset of COVID-19, the safety and wellbeing of our students, staff and the wider community have been our top priority.
‘We have worked hard to make sure all the necessary COVID-safe measures are in place to keep our community as safe as possible and will continue to do so in the months ahead.’