Dr Paul Phillips

As a Principal of a large Further Education College in the South West, I could never have imagined the speed of logistics, collaboration and mobilisation that took place this week in partnership with North Somerset Council, to be one of the first Colleges in the country to take part in the Lateral Flow Antigen Test Pilot for staff and students. Using a pop-up site on one of our main campuses (and planed with military precision as part of a Tier 3 region), 100’s of staff and students have already been tested since the pilot began at the College’s Loxton Campus on the 9th December.

The move is part of wider plans to bring targeted community testing to North Somerset, which could be further extended by new government Tier 3 testing options in the future. As part of the pilot, invitations for the test (which uses a sample of saliva to look for signs of Covid-19 and gives results in less than a day), have been sent to students aged over 16 and staff at the College who are not showing symptoms of coronavirus. The test of course remains optional.

This week’s mobilisation for the test, has been yet another example of how as a Collage, we have had to quickly evaluate and act. From the beginning I set up a ‘Momentum’ taskforce, in order to deal with elements of the pandemic such as this, which have required solutions at pace. The taskforce has been invaluable in ensuring that we can remain agile. In this respect, we have been able to continue to offer an outstanding education whilst at the same time, we have now created an exceptional team (made up of all level of employees in the College), which has quickly developed extensive capability in rapid action planning.

I often think back to Pre-Covid…when the risk register and business continuity plans remained exactly as that for most – plans which never really saw the light of day. Now Colleges have developed some of the best crisis management skills in the UK, and I know my team is up there with the best. As leaders we have all seen individuals in the organisation who have really shown exceptional resilience and innovation in their approach to just getting on with whatever has needed to be done.

Even in Tier 3, the College continues to offer a full onsite learning experience, backed up with seamless individual virtual learning plans as a Microsoft Showcase College should the need arise. However, the greatest concern expressed to me by staff is that they wanted testing to be in place for both themselves and students. I am therefore thrilled that due to the brilliant partnership we have with North Somerset Council, that we have been able to be one of the first to get this pilot up and running for College based asymptomatic community testing.

Whilst the test not only finds people who have Covid-19 with no symptoms (so those people can then isolate and prevent the virus from spreading), initial feedback from students and staff is that the pilot is also helping with the tremendous underlying anxiety that has been affecting all education communities up and down the country. As a Young Minds Trailblazer organisation, mental health initiatives have been extensive at the College during the pandemic, with extra investment in place with tailored support packages evolving as key wellbeing themes have arisen. In this respect the Lateral Flow Test has been a significant weapon against both the mental and the physical aspects of Covid-19.

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