Stoke-on-Trent schools to give coronavirus tests to pupils and staff to help reduce absences


Staff in Stoke-on-Trent schools are being trained to carry out rapid tests to identify pupils and teachers with coronavirus.

The lateral flow tests – where results are available in just 30 minutes – will help pick up people who have Covid-19 but don’t display any symptoms.

And by catching cases earlier, it could reduce the number of staff having to stay at home and prevent whole classes of pupils needing to self-isolate or learn remotely.

So far, 10 schools across the city have undergone the training and more are being offered it in the coming weeks.

Michelle Johnstone, executive headteacher of St Mark’s CE Primary, in Shelton, and Etruscan Primary, in Etruria, has been involved in the ‘train the trainer’ initiative.

She was keen to sign up for it after a number of staff either tested positive for Covid-19 or had to self-isolate as they were close contacts of others who had the virus.

Mrs Johnstone said: “Being able to get lateral flow rapid testing into our school will be incredibly helpful and opens up a number of opportunities for us to keep staff working and children in school.

“We’re waiting for some final piece of equipment to come to us from Government and, as soon as we have that, we’ll be looking to regularly test our senior leadership team alongside some of our teaching staff – 16 in total – every Wednesday.

“If that works, we’ll be looking at how this can be extended more widely across our schools.”

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Alpha Academies Trust has also put some of its staff through the training organised through Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

Its schools include The Discovery Academy, in Bentilee, and The Excel Academy, in Sneyd Green, which have both been hit by a series of coronavirus cases this term.

In a number of instances, so many staff have had to stay at home to self-isolate that whole year groups of students have had to switch to remote learning.

Alpha’s CEO, Simon French, said: “We are exploring ways of working with Stoke-on-Trent City Council in how we can introduce lateral flow testing within our academies.

“It seems to be a very fast and efficient way to identify those positive cases and to reduce transmission.”

It comes as thousands of pupils across the city have been absent from the classroom on the back of the pandemic. A snapshot from attendance from mid-November showed 5,000 Potteries pupils – 13 per cent of the total – were self-isolating at home.

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Dr Paul Edmondson-Jones, director of adult social care, health integration and well-being at the city council, said: “We are urging schools to take up this opportunity.

“School absence as a result of coronavirus is reducing, but some children, through no fault of their own, have had to spend several days at home when this can now hopefully be avoided through the additional train the trainer initiative.

“It can give schools, parents and students peace of mind. It also allows us to test more asymptomatic people across the city.”

Council leader Abi Brown said it would ‘ensure that education can continue in the face of this dreadful virus’.

Baroness Dido Harding, interim executive chairman of the National Institute for Health Protection, praised the efforts to bring Covid-19 under control in Stoke-on-Trent.

She said: “This pilot is one of many which will lay the foundations for the next phase of NHS Test and Trace – mass testing.”





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