Mass testing in schools ‘could help judge Covid impact on attainment’

A Holyrood election candidate said attendance rates at schools in more deprived areas have been hit harder by the pandemic.

Mass testing in schools ‘could help judge Covid impact on attainment’ Getty Images

The impact of coronavirus on pupils’ attainment and health could be assessed through mass testing at schools around Scotland, a Labour Holyrood election candidate has suggested.

Barry Black, an education researcher who will stand in the North East Scotland region in next year’s ballot, said one primary and one secondary school in each council area could take part.

This would provide better understanding of prevalence in each area, he said, and allow the implications for attainment to be clearer before decisions on whether exams should go ahead are taken.

Mr Black said attendance rates in schools in more deprived areas have been hit harder by the pandemic.

He also called for teachers and school staff to be given high priority for Covid-19 vaccines.

“Far more data and understanding is required of the prevalence of Covid in Scottish schools,” Mr Black said.

“My research has shown that greater numbers of young people in Scotland’s most deprived areas are missing out on school recently compared to previous years due to the need to self-isolate.

“Voluntary mass testing of one primary and secondary school in each local authority would allow us to know the current prevalence of the virus in schools so we can better utilise resources and make evidence-based decisions in the interests of health, safely and education.”

He added: “It is becoming increasingly difficult to see how an equitable exam diet is possible next year given the large variation in attendance rates across the country.

“The impact of Covid on education has not been equitable. The most deprived pupils will be the most disadvantaged.

“Teachers and school staff deserve to know the risk in their working environment and such testing could be a key tool in achieving that.

“They have been on the frontline during this pandemic – providing the most essential of services – they deserve every bit of protection.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Keeping everyone in school safe is our absolute priority which is why we’ve put in place robust measures – developed with input from our Education Recovery Group, which includes trades union representatives – to help us protect our school community.

“Recent ONS data shows no evidence of any difference between the positivity rates of teachers and other school staff, relative to other worker groups of a similar age.

“As of December 1, only 0.9% of total absences are due to pupils who had a Covid-19 related sickness. This represents around 0.09% of all pupils.

“There is no current direct evidence that transmission within schools plays a significant contributory role in driving increased rates of infection among children.

“We have already put in place arrangements to allow members of school staff who are concerned that they have been at risk from infection to request a test whether or not they have symptoms.

“An enhanced surveillance programme for schools is in place, this includes the development of a monitoring survey which will sample S4 to S6 school pupils and staff working in secondary schools in Scotland.

“Staff and pupils participating in the survey will take part in swab testing for Covid-19 every month.

“A nationwide voluntary survey of education staff in schools or early learning and childcare settings is helping to identify whether those tested are likely to have had coronavirus.

“From the return of the school term in January, a number of school pilots will also get under way with the aim of establishing a sustainable programme of asymptomatic testing amongst school staff.”

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