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Teaching unions warn mass testing plans for secondary schools are ‘undeliverable’

TEACHING unions warned today that mass-testing plans for secondary schools in January are “undeliverable” without the volunteers to carry them out.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) argued that it would not be possible to recruit and train all the volunteers needed to carry out the Covid-19 tests for students.

In England, secondary-school and college pupils’ return to class will be staggered in the first week of January to help headteachers roll out mass testing.

Schools minister Nick Gibb said the tests will be administered by volunteers and agency staff rather than teachers.

Further details on the plans will be published next week – when most schools will be closed for Christmas.

Volunteers carrying out rapid Covid-19 tests in schools in January will not need a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check because they will be supervised by staff, Mr Gibb said.

ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton said that the plans – “landed on school and college teachers in such a cack-handed manner” – are undeliverable in the timescale given.

“It is not possible to recruit and train all the people needed to carry out tests, and put in place the processes that would be necessary, over the Christmas period, and it is extremely regrettable that the government has given the public an expectation that this will happen,” he said.

Plans to start lessons online in the new year for secondary school and college students – apart from exam-year pupils, keyworkers’ children and vulnerable youngsters – were also announced on many schools’ final day of term.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, warned that schools will “struggle to have testing ready for the start of term” if further details are not released sooner than Christmas.

Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of teaching union NASUWT, said: “Aside from the issue of how these volunteers are even going to be recruited, the idea that they will not be required to undertake DBS checks when they will be on school premises working with children is outrageous.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “We are very concerned that Nick Gibb can be so blase about allowing volunteers to carry out the close-contact work of testing with no proper checks on backgrounds.”

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