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1,500 Armed Forces personnel to support the testing of secondary school and college students in England

@BorisJohnson announced new national restrictions on 4th Jan which now include the closure of school and college buildings, except to the children of key workers and vulnerable children.

The new plans from the government will see primary school, secondary school and college buildings closed for the majority of pupils until mid February, while also confirming that not all exams will go ahead as planned in the summer.

Staggered School and College Reopening from January 2021

In a bid to #KeepSchoolsOpen UK Military personnel will provide planning and training support to secondary schools and colleges with testing at the start of the spring term.

The personnel are on standby to support secondary schools and colleges across England to roll out COVID-19 testing to students and staff as the new term begins in January.

Every secondary school and college in England is being offered testing, with £78 million funding for schools and colleges to support this offer.

As well as additional funding, the government will provide schools and colleges with the kit they need and have introduced a staggered return at the start of term.

The Armed Forces deployment across England builds on successful school testing pilots conducted in November and December. Personnel supported thousands of tests being carried out at pilot schools, demonstrating the value of lateral flow devices rapidly testing students in a school environment.

1,500 Armed Forces personnel are being made available to support the Department for Education and Department for Health and Social Care to ensure that students and staff can return as safely as possible to secondary schools and colleges across England. 

The majority of personnel will form local response teams, providing support and phone advice to institutions needing guidance on the testing process and set-up of the testing facilities.

This will be done predominantly through webinars and individual meetings, but teams will also be on standby to deploy at short notice to provide in-person support to resolve any issues in the situations where testing would otherwise not be able to go ahead. Schools and colleges will shortly be provided with further information on how to request additional support if needed.

A small team of planners is embedded in the Department for Health and Social care who are supporting the Department for Education to help coordinate the support. The majority of personnel will be on task from this week as they start to conduct training.

Students will be expected to swab themselves in the vast majority of cases, under the supervision of a school staff member or volunteer who has been trained for the role. Teachers are not expected to take a role in the testing process.

This support is being provided through the Military Aid to Civil Authorities (MACA) process. There are currently around 2914 personnel committed to 55 tasks to support other government departments and civil authorities with the response to coronavirus. This includes support with community testing across the UK, the provision of ambulance drivers in Wales and testing support for hauliers in Kent.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said:

“The UK Armed Forces are stepping up once again this holiday. This week I have authorised over a thousand Armed Forces personnel to assist schools returning after the Christmas break.

“They’ll share considerable experience of testing across the country and the successful school pilots conducted this autumn.

“We are grateful for the professionalism and commitment they and our colleagues in teaching are showing to get students back into the classroom and on with their education.”  

Gavin Williamson 100x100Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“It is a true cross-government effort to make sure secondary schools and colleges have the support, guidance, materials and funding they need to offer rapid testing to their staff and students from the start of term.

“I am grateful to the armed forces personnel, and all the school and college staff, leaders and volunteers working to put testing in place. This will help break chains of transmission, fight the virus, and help deliver the national priority of keeping education open for all.”

Labour calls on the Government to stop hiding and publish SAGE advice on return of schools and colleges 

Labour is calling on Gavin Williamson to be honest with the public and publish SAGE advice about the return of schools and colleges next week, after reports suggest the scientific advisors have said stricter restrictions, including school closures, may be needed. 

Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green and Shadow Schools Minister Wes Streeting have today (29 Dec) written to Gavin Williamson urging him to provide answers for parents, students and staff. 

Kate Green MP 100x100

Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said: 

“The Government cannot continue to hide from reality and must urgently publish the scientific advice on the return of schools. 

“Parents, pupils and staff are incredibly concerned about what will happen next week, with the Prime Minister governing through media leaks rather than evidence and clarity.  

“The Government has lost control of the virus and children’s education is suffering as a result. It’s time for the Prime Minister to own his mistakes and be honest about whether students can return to schools and colleges in a week’s time.” 

Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, responding to reports of changes to the planned return of schools in January, said:

“The Government is failing to be honest with parents and pupils about the return of schools in January.

“Parents, pupils and staff will be increasingly worried by the drip feed of media reports saying scientists have advised the closure of schools in January, yet the Prime Minister has failed to be clear about the advice he has received.

“Labour has been clear that keeping pupils learning should be a national priority, but a litany of Government failures, from a lack of funding for safety measures through to the delayed and chaotic announcement of mass testing, is putting young people’s education at risk.

“It is time for the Prime Minister to get a grip on the situation and show some leadership. The country needs to hear from him today, alongside the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Advisor, about the evidence on the spread of the virus, how he plans to minimise disruption to education and a clear strategy for schools and colleges that commands the support of parents, pupils and staff.”

NASUWT – The Teachers’ Union calls for tougher action from Government on schools ahead of the start of the new term 

Dr Patrick Roach 100x100Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the NASUWT-The Teachers’ Union has called on the Government to take further actions on school safety in light of the increased risk posed by the new variant of the virus.

Dr Roach has written a letter, sent yesterday (28 Dec), to Gavin Williamson on the plans for the start of the new school term next week.

These include:

  • Permit schools to move to remote learning for all pupils, except those deemed to be vulnerable or the children of key workers, in the highest tier areas
  • Publish new safety guidance for schools in light of the increased risk posed by the variant
  • Delay the return of pupils in January to enable schools to undertake new risk assessments and ensure they are compliant with any new measures in the revised national safety guidance
  • Introduce mandatory wearing of face coverings within school buildings
  • Give staff working in schools priority access to the Covid vaccine
  • Ensure that staff in high risk and vulnerable groups are able to work from home pending further review of the situation

NEU presses Government to release advice from Chief Medical Officer and reiterates position that schools and colleges should start the New Year with a period of online learning 

mary boustedKevinCourtney100x100The NEU Joint General Secretaries Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney have reiterated their call on the Prime Minister to keep schools and colleges closed for at least the first 2 weeks in January, with online learning except for vulnerable children and the children of key workers.

With little time left before schools and colleges are expected to start back for the new term Government has still given no clear indication of what will be happening in the week of the 4th of January.

The Joint General Secretaries of the National Education Union, yesterday (28 Dec), wrote a letter to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Education asking for Government to share the evidence and advice they are receiving about school opening including over the decision to overrule Greenwich council in the run up to Christmas. 

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