Obtaining parental consent is biggest challenge for school Covid tests

According to a survey by the Association of School and College Leaders, the most common problem headteachers have faced in providing Covid tests to pupils for the full reopening of schools is obtaining parental consent.
The most common problem headteachers have faced in providing Covid tests to pupils for the full reopening of schools is obtaining parental consent, according to a survey by the Association of School and College Leaders.
Just over half of respondents (52%) indicated that this has been a difficulty. The next most common problems were finding sufficient space in their school or college to set up testing stations, and recruiting sufficient numbers of staff to run them (both 43%). Only 17% said they had not encountered any challenges.
Government guidance requires secondary schools and colleges to offer on-site Covid testing to returning pupils with the first test taking place before they enter the classroom. It says that the testing and return of pupils can be phased during the first week from 8 March to manage the number passing through the test site at any one time.
Our survey of 934 headteachers and principals of schools with secondary-age pupils and colleges in England found that 76% will need to phase the return of students during the course of next week rather than them all returning on Monday.
The majority of those needing to do a phased return will have completed that during next week, but some (7% of all respondents) expect that a phased return will need to continue into the week beginning Monday 15 March.
The government has allowed schools and colleges to invite in some pupils for their first Covid tests this week to help manage the flow through testing stations. Our survey found that just over half of respondents (54%) have been able to use this flexibility and have invited some pupils in for their first test this week.
The survey also asked respondents about the government’s decision to recommend the extension of face coverings to classrooms for pupils in Year 7 and above. The majority (59%) expected that a small number of pupils will refuse to wear face coverings in classrooms, and some (5%) expected that a significant number would refuse to do so.
An overwhelming majority of respondents (84%) felt that government guidance – which recommends face coverings in classrooms but does not make them mandatory – fails to provide sufficient clarity for schools and colleges.
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Our survey shows the massive challenge facing schools and colleges in running a testing programme which involves setting up something that looks like a field hospital and then processing hundreds or thousands of pupils before they return to class. The logistics involved mean that many schools will need to phase the return of students. There will be a full return but it will be from – not on – Monday 8 March.
“It is worrying that the biggest problem emerging is the difficulty in obtaining parental consent for Covid tests. This is most likely to be simply a matter of oversight with some parents not returning forms and we would urge them to do so. There may also be parents who are nervous about testing because they have seen or heard misinformation and we would encourage them to speak to their school if they have concerns. These tests are voluntary but the more they are used the better the chance of detecting asymptomatic cases.
“Secondary schools and colleges have also been handed the problem of extending the use of face coverings to classrooms, with government guidance that is clearly causing difficulties because it says they are not mandatory but their use must be implemented. This leaves schools and colleges in a very difficult position, and our survey shows that many will now have to navigate the difficult terrain of having some students who refuse to wear them.
“We feel that the government has given schools and colleges a hospital pass on testing and face coverings and left them with a logistical and classroom management nightmare which has nothing to do with the core business of education and is inevitably a huge distraction. It could and should have provided more support on tests and greater clarity on face coverings.”

The survey was conducted on Thursday 4 March by email to 3,172 headteachers and principals in England, and produced 934 responses. The majority are from state-funded secondary schools (78%), with 12% from independent schools, and the remainder from a mixture of all-through schools, special schools and colleges.