The news comes as health secretary Matt Hancock revealed which groups would be prioritised for testing today, with teachers the fifth in line for Covid-19 tests.
The news that teachers are on the priority list – albeit behind NHS workers and care-home staff – may be welcomed by those who have reported being turned away from testing facilities, leaving their schools under-staffed.
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Jenna Crittenden, headteacher at Platt C of E primary school in Kent, said that she had been left without a deputy headteacher who was turned away from a testing facility.
“Last week, my deputy head booked a test in Kent after two days of trying,” she told Tes.
“When she got there they were turning people away as they had no tests, and when she said that could they ask to confirm she was needed back at work as a key worker, the gentleman went off to his supervisor and then returned to tell her that ‘Teachers are not key workers and you need to go home and isolate’.”
“We have put in a complaint but it meant that I had no deputy for a week. She finally took a school test – half of which arrived damaged and have not been replaced – and got a negative.”
“I had four other staff out who couldn’t get tests for at least four days, which has had a huge impact on a school of seven teaching staff,” she added.
And Alison Peacock, the chief executive of the Chartered College of Teaching, described teachers “spending hours on the phone seeking a testing appointment only to be turned away to call again the next day”, or “turned away from a test centre because they were ‘not considered a key worker'”, in a letter she sent to Lord Bethell at the Department of Health and Social Care, seen by Tes.
Head of English Hayley Dole also confirmed she was refused a test at a centre and told that teachers were not key workers.
2/2 they refused to test me despite the fact that there was literally one other car there. Oh and by the way, teachers aren’t key workers.
“They refused to test me as I didn’t have a QR code. I hadn’t realised the booking didn’t go through, I assumed it had,” she told Tes.
“He didn’t seem to believe me and said he gets this a lot. So they said they can’t test me, so I said, ‘Not even if I’m a teacher?’ and he said, ‘Not until teachers are key workers.'”
School business leader Hilary Goldsmith said she thought schools might resort to paying for tests privately to avoid staff absences.
“We have had a teacher go for a pre-booked test and be turned away as they had run out of tests,” she told Tes.
“I can imagine that more schools might consider paying for private testing for their staff. Paying for a £99 test is more cost-effective than having a member of staff self-isolating for two weeks and having to pay supply at £180 a day. If the test comes back clear they can be back in school teaching again on the same day,” she added.
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said the fact teachers were being told they were not key workers was “ridiculous”.
“Teachers are key workers, so why do the people at testing sites not know that? It’s either poor training or it’s not being communicated to them,” she said.
“They shouldn’t be being turned away, it’s ridiculous. I mean what it speaks to more than anything else is a system that is just not functioning.”
She added that the “logical end” of a lack of testing for teachers would be school closures.
“The schools won’t have enough staff. That’s going to affect primary schools more quickly than secondary schools because generally there are more staff in secondary schools. Either way, the only end for the lack of testing is that school staff will have to isolate and that schools will have to close.
“We’ve been hearing about this since schools went back but it’s been getting worse and worse. I mean, what was the government thinking of opening schools and colleges, getting 12 million pupils and staff back into a public building…9 per cent of the UK population and then not having test, track, trace and isolate in place? It beggars belief.”
Dr Bousted added that a functioning test, track, trace and isolate system had been one of the NEU’s five key tests for the reopening of schools.