Education news

Teachers cannot be compelled to supervise Covid tests, unions warn

Lateral flow testing can detect the presence of Covid-19 within as little as 15 minutes

CLASSROOM staff cannot be compelled to supervise or support pupils to conduct Covid self-testing, unions have warned.

Students in years 12-14 are to go back next week, along with younger children in P4-7.

P1-3 pupils have already returned and all year groups will resume face-to-face learning from April 12, after the Easter break.

Post-primary staff and Year 12-14 pupils are to given twice-weekly lateral flow tests from Monday.

It will be left to each family to decide if they wish their child to participate.

Unions have voiced reservations about the roll-out and the part they may be expected to play.

The testing programme will begin in schools in phases, starting with a familiarisation week on March 22.

Official advice issued to schools has been contradictory.

According to the Department of Education, there will be two supervised self-tests in school next week. After that, tests will be conducted at home, with parental supervision.

However, the Education Authority sent schools different guidance on Thursday night that said pupils will take all tests at home.

The department has not yet made any changes to its initial guidance.

The Northern Ireland Teachers' Council (NITC), which represents five unions, met to discuss concerns.

It said it was keen to support the programme of familiarisation but raised issues about assisting pupils to take tests in a classroom/school environment.

"The role of teachers is purely to facilitate familiarisation of the LFD test," it said.

"The teaching unions advise that testing is safest carried out at home for privacy and to ensure no potential positive cases come into school.

"School staff cannot be compelled to supervise or support pupils to conduct self-testing in schools."

The programme aims for two tests to be carried out before Easter, and one prior to return to school as an additional mitigation to reduce asymptomatic cases.

The Department of Education said this was part of a wider societal process and should, therefore, be viewed as an extra mitigation, not an imposition.

The NITC said it remains "keen to engage with the department to discuss what support will be needed for the roll-out of lateral flow testing in schools to be successful - but in a way that does not compromise safety in school - or add to the already unacceptably high workload demands on school leaders".

The NASUWT union, whose annual conference starts today, said the plan was "haphazard and ill-thought out".

Its National Official for Northern Ireland Justin McCamphill claimed little or no consideration had been given to the workload of school leaders.

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