Following the government’s announcement of mass testing in schools in the New Year, UNISON’s National Schools Committee secured a meeting with the Department for Education (DfE) and NHS Test and Trace, to take place on Tuesday 22 December. The government also announced that secondary schools and other schools with secondary-age pupils will move to online learning (except for the children of key workers and vulnerable children) in the first week of the winter term (4 January). The aim is to allow mass testing of all pupils and staff in those schools during the opening week.
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.
Taking this into account and looking at the materials that the DfE has provided so far, the committee’s initial position is:
• We support mass testing in schools to try to 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 PPE, 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.
Next Following our meeting with the DfE we will issue guidance for UNISON members for next term. In the meantime if you are being asked to do anything that contradicts the above points contact us for advice.
UNISON Coventry City Branch
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