Asking parents to test children for COVID-19 is ‘fraught with difficulty’, says teaching union

Andy Wells
·Freelance Writer
·5 min read
Doctor takes a cotton swab coronavirus test from child nose to analyse if postitve for covid-19.
A cotton swab coronavirus test from a child's nose to analyse if positive for COVID-19. (Getty)

An education union has warned asking parents to test their children for coronavirus is "fraught with difficulty".

According to The Telegraph, secondary school pupils may have to be tested twice a week with lateral flow tests sent out to parents.

The tests, which involve swabbing the back of the throat and nose, are able to give results in just 30 minutes and are already being used by staff at some educational institutions.

However, one education union said asking parents to do this would be "fraught with difficulty".

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), suggested some parents would be reluctant to "swab their children up their noses or down their throats".

She added "lots of parents probably will not want to know if their child has got COVID because they will be asymptomatic and that has implications for them being able to work".

“I do think that’s a huge ask and if the government is going to make that ask of parents... it really has to be very clear about the science on which that is based."

Health minister Helen Whately would only say on Thursday that the plans are a “work in progress”.

People carry out asymptomatic testing using lateral flow antigen at a test centre at Edinburgh University ahead of students being allowed to travel home for the Christmas holidays.
Lateral flow tests are able to give results in 30 minutes. (PA)

'More details next week'

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Whately said: “There is work being done to look at how testing will help schools come back.

“But there will be more details set out about that next week.”

Watch: Mass COVID testing to be expanded to business with more than 50 staff

Asked about press reports that parents could be asked to test their children at home, she added: “I’m not going to get drawn into that, there is work in progress looking at how testing can support schools to come back.

“There’s already testing going on in schools where you have children of key workers and teachers in schools at the moment because schools aren’t completely closed, and there is work going on at the moment about the details of the return to schools, and there will be more said about that next week.”

Reaction

In contrast to the NEU, the plans had support from the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), Britain's largest union for secondary heads.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the ASCL, said: "We think that is a good idea. It reinforces the responsibility for families rather than assuming that bits of the state, like schools, will carry out the tests."

However, there has been criticism from educational experts and parents over the “impractical” idea.

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Speaking to Yahoo News UK, political commentator Calvin Robinson – who is also a teacher and educator – said: "It sounds like they want parents to be responsible for testing their children twice a week – as if they don't already have enough things to worry about.

"This idea seems impractical to me."

Robinson went on: “Schools have worked incredibly hard to put extra hygiene and safety measures in place – they have risk assessments coming out of their ears, they're probably the safest place to be right now.”

Most school pupils have been learning at home since the start of the year. (Getty)
Most school pupils have been learning at home since the start of the year. (Getty)

Robinson said that “children have missed out on far too much education”, adding: “But worse than that, is the social development they've missed out on, and the affect all of this is having on their mental wellbeing.

“We need to get children back in schools as soon as possible, and never close them again.”

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Some parents also tweeted their frustration at possibly having to test their children twice a week, with one saying the experience left her son “distraught”.

Teacher and author Sue Cowley cast doubt on the government’s plans, tweeting: “There is no way the government is sending enough lateral flow kits to all secondary parents to test their kids twice a week and parents actually agreeing to do it.”

Justine Roberts, founder and chief executive of Mumsnet, said parents are divided on whether they should have to test children twice a week at home.

She said some parents support the idea as it would take the burden off schools who already have “mammoth” cleaning duties and procedures to follow.

But she added: “Others are sceptical. Lateral flow tests aren’t the most reliable and there’s a danger a false negative could lead to a false sense of security.”

Transmission in schools

The testing news comes as a recent study suggested that schools do not play a significant role in driving the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

Cases among teachers fell during the November lockdown – when schools in England remained open – particularly in regions with the toughest restrictions, according to epidemiologists at the University of Warwick.

Researchers say there is no significant evidence to suggest that children attending class, particularly in primary schools, is a major driver of outbreaks in the community in England.

In December, the data indicates a large rise in the number of absences due to confirmed infection in secondary schools in the South East and London, but such rises were not observed in other regions or in primary schools.

The researchers say the increased transmissibility of the new variant in these regions may have contributed to the rise in cases in secondary schools.

Watch: What UK government COVID-19 support is available?