Preparation for mass-testing delays secondary schools’ return, but primaries will open in January

coronavirus testing

In preparation for mass-testing, secondary school pupils in Bedford Borough are to remain at home as the new term starts next week, following a government announcement yesterday (Wednesday).

Education secretary, Gavin Williamson, is giving secondary schools an extra week to prepare for the mass testing of pupils to facilitate their return.

A £78m funding package for PPE has been allocated to schools, plus the military are on standby to help roll-out the testing programme in areas that may need additional support.

This move follows the sharp rise in Covd-19 (coronavirus) cases throughout the UK, including a more virulent new strain of the virus.

Infection rates have increased rapidly in the East of England where the new strain has been circulating.

Information on the the government website states that the children of key workers and exam students are able to attend school: “Where the contingency framework is implemented, secondary schools and further education colleges should only allow vulnerable children, children of critical workers, and exam students to attend.

“High-quality remote education should be provided for all other pupils.”

Primary schools to remain open

However, unless transmission rates increase greatly, primary schools will be expected to remain open.

“The framework includes the option to move primary schools to remote education should rates of incidence or transmission of the virus in a local area require it.

“Evidence suggests that transmission is limited between young children, and the decision to close primary schools will be based on higher thresholds than for secondary schools and colleges and will only be taken as a last resort.

“Early years will remain open nationally, as will alternative provision and special schools.”

Secondary school leaders have begun preparations for mass testing and to implement government guidelines when they’re issued on Monday.

Tracy Bannister, Operations Director of Sharnbrook Academy Federation, said: “We are planning for the new timetable for opening next week, as announced by the Government yesterday, for all our schools and year groups, and will be in contact with parents and students directly.

“We would also encourage all families, before their children return to school, to take advantage of the home testing kits that have been made available through Bedford Borough Council as detailed in our letters to families at the end of the December term.”

Ruth Wilkes, federation principal at Castle Newnham, which oversees a primary and secondary school, paid tribute to her staff and sought to reassure parents.

She told the Bedford Independent: “Thanks to the dedication and sense of public duty of our staff we are ready to welcome back all nursery and primary children from Tuesday 5 January and to relaunch remote learning for our secondary pupils who will return on a staggered basis from January 11 as well as to offer provision on site for our more vulnerable pupils and the children of critical workers.

“We had been anticipating changes to the plans for the return to school released just before we broke up for the holiday and, much as with previous such announcements from the government, we were prepared to act at very short notice.

“We have written to all parents today and have tried to bring some clarity and reassurance to what must be a very confusing picture.

“As always, our priority remains the safety and well-being of our community as well as the maintenance of high standards of education for our pupils.”

Mrs Wilkes confirmed that testing for secondary pupils is due to begin from 5 January, but detailed training and information is yet to be fully shared by the government.

“Once again I know that our staff will be flexible, keen to support the national effort and wholly committed to their work in these very difficult circumstances.”

• Update: This article was amended on 31 December 2020 at 12:57, to include a comment from Sharnbrook Academy Federation.

Keep Local news Alive in Bedfordshire