Education news

Parents' frustration as children miss school due to Covid testing

Children between the ages of 10 and 14 accounted for 11 per cent of more than 10,000 individuals testing positive for Covid in the past seven days in Northern Ireland
Jonathan McCambridge, PA

Parents have warned that children’s education is being disrupted because of the number of pupils currently absent from school due to Covid.

A number of teachers have expressed concern that guidance on testing and tracing in Northern Ireland has caused a high number of pupils to miss classes.

When children are off school as a close contact, they have to take a PCR test on day two of their absence. If it is negative and they have no symptoms they are allowed to return to school but have to take another PCR test on the eighth day after contact.

A pop-up testing facility opened at Larne Leisure Centre today, amid warnings that some parents were finding it difficult to get slots for PCR tests.

A number of parents brought their children for testing at the temporary facility.

Steven Wilson was there with his nine-year-old son Oliver Cook, a P6 pupil.

Oliver was told he could not come to school and would have to undergo a PCR test after a fellow pupil tested positive at his school.

Read more: Immediate roll-out of Covid vaccine to 12 to 15-year-olds a 'no brainer', says Prof Gabriel Scally

Steven said: “I got a call at ten to six last night telling me he wasn’t to come to school. We found out about the pop-up and booked it to get it done.

“It’s a bit hard. I’m working and I’ve had to take time off work. This is the second time we have done this. I’m a single parent and it is hard.

“Maybe all the kids could get vaccinated? Make it compulsory for everyone to get the vaccine.”

He added: “It’s not good, all this home learning. I am always coming home from work, then starting to make the dinner, then doing his home learning. It is not easy being a single parent and trying to do it all yourself.”

Paul McGowan drove 30 miles to bring his 11-year-old daughter Aoife to the test centre.

He said: “It is a bit stressful, your plans for the day are disrupted and you have to then go out of your way. It is just now just a matter of waiting on the results, and finding out whether we have to isolate and what we do in the meantime.

“If you are asymptomatic you could be carrying it, we could all be carrying it, we just don’t know. We could be spreading it about without knowing. It is just a minefield.”

He added: “With all the disruption in the first and second lockdowns, they are already a good bit behind (with school work). Some of the teachers have said they are almost a year behind.

“She is missing out today, probably tomorrow as well, and if it is a positive result she will miss out on two weeks of school. That is detrimental, she is in P7 so she will be doing her transfer test in November and December.”

Meanwhile, an official from a teaching union has said that Stormont ministers need to re-introduce school bubbles and mandatory 10-day self-isolation for close contacts.

The Northern Ireland Assembly has been recalled on Thursday to discuss the situation regarding Covid-19 in schools.

Justin McCamphill, NASUWT National Official for Northern Ireland, said: “We saw this coming. We were looking at the number of cases in the community and comparing it to the previous year and we were several orders of magnitude greater in terms of community transmission.

“Opening schools on the basis that we weren’t going to have as many mitigations as before was clearly going to be a mistake.

“I think they should have kept with all the mitigations. The guidance is that you only self-isolate after you get a positive PCR test.

“What is happening is that pupils come in, somebody in the class is positive. They get the PCR test on day two, they test negative because the disease hasn’t had long enough to incubate but they are coming back into school and are then testing positive on day eight.

“We think they should have stuck to the self-isolation system we had in place before. I know that is difficult for parents but it is easier to manage when you have the whole class out than half and half because then the school can revert to online learning. This situation is even harder to manage.”

Mr McCamphill added: “Teachers are worried about catching Covid themselves, they are worried for the young people they teach.

“School leaders and those involved in track and trace feel worn out and shattered because they are spending their weekends and evenings contacting people to tell them not to come in. Teachers are finding that all their time is being devoted to that.”

Read more: Immediate roll-out of Covid vaccine to 12 to 15-year-olds a 'no brainer', says Prof Gabriel Scally

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