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Schools reopening: Headteachers scramble to get parents’ consent for school Covid-19 testing before 8 March

The i 02/03/2021 Will Hazell
a group of people in a room: Boris Johnson visits a school's Covid testing centre last month. Some headteachers have reported difficulties in getting parents to return the consent forms needed to test pupils. (Photo: WPA Pool/Getty Images/Jack Hill) © Provided by The i Boris Johnson visits a school's Covid testing centre last month. Some headteachers have reported difficulties in getting parents to return the consent forms needed to test pupils. (Photo: WPA Pool/Getty Images/Jack Hill)

Headteachers in England are scrambling to get parents’ consent to test pupils for Covid before schools reopen on Monday. 

In some schools up to half of parents have not yet consented for their children to be tested for the coronavirus. 

Under the Government’s plan for returning young people to the classroom, secondary school students will have to take a rapid ‘lateral flow’ test three times on the school site in their first two weeks back. If a pupil tests negative on their first test, they can start their lessons as normal, but if they test positive they will have to immediately go home to self-isolate. 

However, the testing regime is voluntary, meaning parents must give their consent. 

Siobhain McDonagh, the Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden in south London, told that at one local school, only about 50 per cent of parents had so far agreed, with hundreds of consent forms still missing. The school was now having to ring round every parent one by one. 

In the House of Commons this week, Ms McDonagh called for an “opt out” rather than “opt in” consent system, to ensure a “far greater number of pupils are tested while retaining a parent’s right to choose”. 

The Association of School and College Leaders also said it had “picked up some concerns about the number of parents not consenting” as well as “the effort involved for schools in trying to obtain that consent”. 

Catch-up package not sufficient

The education catch-up package unveiled in England is “not sufficient”, the Government’s own education recovery tsar has said. 

Sir Kevan Collins, who was appointed Education Recovery Commissioner in February, said that the Government’s catch-up package was a “good start, but it’s not a recovery plan”. 

Last week, Boris Johnson announced £400m of new funding to pay for measures such as summer schools and an expansion in tutoring to help bring children back up to speed after the lockdown.  

In total, the Government has committed £1.7bn to catch-up. 

However, appearing in front of the Commons Education Select Committee on Tuesday, Sir Kevan said: “I don’t think there’s enough of an integrated strategy, and I think I’ve said clearly that the summer package that was announced last week is a good start but it’s not a recovery plan. We need to go much further with some more fundamental and long term pieces of work.” 

Sir Kevan said he was open-minded to extending the school day to provide more time for teaching and enrichment activities. “It’s a time for all things being considered, all things being available,” he said. 

However, Julie McCulloch, ASCL’s director of policy, said that an opt-out system was “potentially problematic” because lateral flow tests are “effectively a medical procedure”. 

Sir Dan Moynihan, the chief executive of the Harris Federation – which runs 50 schools in the south-east – told i that while the situation was a “struggle” he was in favour of the current opt-in system.

He said: “We’d rather do it this way round than have a situation where consent is assumed, because there is a small number of parents – some are anti-vax, some don’t want to cooperate – and the worst thing for us would be to give tests to those children against their parents’ wishes. It will alienate them and cause problems, so I’d much rather persuade people as best we can. 

“There are a small and vociferous number who don’t want masks, didn’t want temperature checks when that was going on, wrongly believed we might be administering vaccines in schools, because I think they’re prey to what they’ve picked up on social media.”

Sir Dan said that his academies had currently obtained the consent of about 70 to 80 per cent of parents on average, and admitted the process was “hard work for the schools”. 

He added: “It won’t be true of everyone that hasn’t sent a form back, but those that need persuading and who don’t really understand will be amongst those who haven’t, and therefore getting on the phone is an important thing. 

“They might also be people who themselves when it comes to their turn for a vaccine, might decline it, so the more work we can do to persuade people that all this is helpful, the better.” 

Elsewhere on Tuesday, Downing Street said that primary school children should not be made to wear face coverings after learning a council was encouraging their use

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said that officials had been in contact with Redbridge Council in east London after it told its primary schools that pupils should be advised to wear masks. 

A Department for Education spokesman said: “Our guidance is clear – face coverings are only necessary for pupils in Year 7 and above and we are in contact with the council on the matter.” 

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