SCHOOLS and colleges across the borough are set to take part in a nationwide mass testing of students - though council bosses have backed concerns of school leaders at the ‘rushed’ introduction of the proposals.
It was revealed earlier this month that the government offered secondary schools and colleges access to testing from the first week of January in a bid to minimise cases and transmission of the virus following the return of pupils after the Christmas break.
It is proposed that all students will still return to education from the first day of term, though secondary school and college students will learn remotely for one week except for those in exam years, vulnerable young people and the children of critical workers.
Barnsley Council leader Sir Steve Houghton backed concerns that the plans may not be viable.
He said: “Testing undoubtedly plays a crucial role in making sure we keep the virus under control, along with other measures like social distancing, hand washing and wearing a face covering.
“While I support our schools exploring how lateral flow tests (LFT) could be used to reduce the need for, and duration of, self-isolation, I back the concerns of our school leaders at the rushed introduction of these testing proposals.
“Some of my concerns include the practical challenges that schools will have around recruiting, training, safeguarding checks, parental consent and logistical arrangements, especially over the Christmas and new year period.
“Some schools may struggle to find the physical space needed to test at scale.
“It would also be extremely difficult to communicate these changes to parents, carers and young people and ensure their support on such short notice.”
The ‘first-of-its-kind’ testing programme has been introduced to help identify cases and breaks of transmission in schools and colleges and, despite the testing not being compulsory for students, the government have stated that ‘ideally’ children with no symptoms will still be tested before they return to school.
Testing will be provided on college and school grounds, with students being offered two rapid tests three days apart, with positive results confirmed by a lab-based test.
Barnsley College has already begun plans for on-site testing.
A spokesman said: “The testing facility will be made available for all staff and students, with further details set to be finalised and announced week commencing January 4.”
Though the council leader has stated that a letter will be written to the government expressing concerns, whilst also proposing alternative methods.
“I support a more considered approach to testing, allowing schools to have the time, staff and funding to get the appropriate arrangements in place and communicate this to parents,” he added.
“We will be writing to the government to express our concerns and propose alternative methods for introducing lateral flow testing to our secondary schools and colleges.
“We remain committed to reducing the disruption to children’s education and will do all we can to make sure our children and young people have the support they need, alongside supporting our schools and colleges.”