Many independent schools looking into on-site Covid-19 testing

Independent schools are keen to bring Covid-19 testing in-house so pupils, particularly in exam years, aren’t disrupted

With the BBC reporting that amongst headteachers there is “growing frustration at the lack of access to testing” for schools, IE has been told that many independent schools are looking into establishing their own Covid-19 testing capability on-site.

Having fast testing in schools will mean reduced time between the day the test is taken and the day the result is received, which will mean less interruption of pupils’ learning.

“Like many independent schools, Stephen Perse is exploring the establishment of our own testing capability on-site (such as the SAMBA II diagnostic device) so that we can maintain continuity of education, and support staff and pupil confidence in being at school,” explained Richard Girvan, principal of the Stephen Perse Foundation.

The foundation consists of a family of schools in Cambridge, Madingley and Saffron Walden, educating boys and girls aged one to 18.

He continued: “This device delivers a Covid-19 test result in under two hours, meaning that the exam years in particular can be reassured that their school year will not be interrupted.”

The length of time the testing process takes is a key issue. Girvan said in their schools’ experience from the last week, it is currently taking seven days from the need for a test to receiving the results.

At Beech Hall School, a coeducational school for pupils aged six months to 16 years, head James Allen said the timescale for testing has varied for different people: “The timescale has varied between less than 24 hours from isolation to test result, to five days for the same.”

He added: “However, if this means that we maintain a continued education for the majority of the school’s pupils, that seems acceptable to me.”

So far in the new term, 24 pupils or members or staff have been tested at Beech Hall School and all tests have been negative, allowing the people involved to return to school. So far they haven’t had any issues in obtaining tests.

We know that as the cold and flu season arrives in the coming months, with its associated coughs and high temperatures, that there will be an increased demand for Covid-19 testing to maintain attendance levels – Richard Girvan, principal, Stephen Perse Foundation

Girvan has concerns about the challenges they could face later on in the term.

“While we have experienced very high levels of attendance from staff and students across our school sites in Cambridge and Saffron Walden since the beginning of term, we know that as the cold and flu season arrives in the coming months, with its associated coughs and high temperatures, that there will be an increased demand for Covid-19 testing to maintain attendance levels.

“There is another issue, that as university students return to Cambridge in the coming weeks possibly causing levels of the virus to increase amongst our community, there will be an increased demand for testing in our area.”

Girvan said “national testing facilities and robust procedures” are needed so that staff and pupils can return to school promptly if they are tested negative.

Allen said Beech Hall School will continue its “clear and consistent” response to Covid-19 symptoms. This includes: quarantining the pupil with symptoms in school until they can be collected, advising them to self-isolate at home, arrange a test and have their whole household isolate until a negative test result is confirmed.

England’s education secretary, Gavin Williamson, said schools can now order tests from the NHS directly, two weeks after many schools opened for the autumn term.

You might also like: Jenny Neild of the Stephen Perse Foundation discusses new term challenges

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Thursday 4 November 2021, 11am (GMT)