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Virus testing shortage sees pupils stuck at home again

Attendance drops as staff face strain of keeping out coronavirus

24 September, 2020 — By Helen Chapman

FIVE schools in Camden have at least one confirmed case of Covid-19 and have either sent a whole year group or a class ‘bubble’ home.

The strain has seen overall attendance at the borough’s primaries and secondaries drop from around 95 per cent in the first week back, to around 85 per cent this week.

And, although staff are trying to stick as closely as possible to a normal school day, there are warnings that without a better testing system pupils’ education will go on being disrupted.

The New Journal revealed last week how the wait for tests in Camden was longer because the area was not considered a high priority outbreak area.

Some people have faced delays of five days or more, leaving parents stuck isolating with children who may or may not have the virus.

Izzy Jones, the new head at William Ellis School in Parliament Hill, said: “There was a lot of anger among headteachers because of the pressure put on us to be ready to open. Now within a number of weeks there are difficulties families are having accessing testing.”

The government announced this month that 10 tests were to be given out to each school. The Department for Education told schools last Tuesday they could call a hotline and order more kits.

Hugo Pierre, Camden Unison schools convener, said: “It’s really worrying for school staff that families aren’t getting access to tests when they need them. “It is essential that the test and trace system is handed back to the local authority so that can be done effectively.”

Last Monday a Year 9 pupil at William Ellis tested positive for coronavirus. The whole year group was told to stay at home and work online while the school carried out a risk assessment.

At Eleanor Palmer Primary in Kentish Town, a classroom teacher held lessons online while isolating at home waiting for a family member’s test result.

In a letter home to parents this week Laurel Robin, headteacher at Brookfield Nursery and Primary School, said one of the nursery’s ‘bubbles’ was closed last Thursday after a member of staff tested positive, Meanwhile at Swiss Cottage School messages to parents said two members of staff tested positive for Covid-19.

The school say they are self-isolating and risk of transmission is low – they were not teachers or classroom assistants and “bubbles” remain open.

Bavaani Nanthabalan, the headteacher at Netley Primary School in Euston, said: “The confusion is when you know a child may have a cold but you want to do the right thing and ask for a test. “We just want the test and trace to be efficiently run.”

She added: “We need to be practical about these things. We are opening schools, we are opening pubs, surely the test and trace system has got to be in place to cope with these measures.”

A testing centre in Kentish Town, although people from Camden have been advised to go miles out of London to be swabbed

Council leader Georgia Gould last week said testing should be handed to local authorities to run after reports of residents being sent miles from the borough to get a test, even though a facility was available in Kentish Town.

Gerald Clark from Camden branch of the NEU said: “The return of pupils in September always brings with it health challenges. There are more common colds circulating and on top of the situation we are in, there’s a massive issue not having enough tests available because it means that schools can’t function properly.”

Camden’s schools chief Councillor Angela Mason said: “We are also urgently looking to secure access to local testing for teachers.”

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “I do not underestimate the work staff have done to put in place the protective measures required to reduce the risk of transmission.“But as the UK’s chief medical officers have already made clear, the risk of catching coronavirus at school is low, meaning that the wider risks to children being out of school is, in fact, far greater.”

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