Everything we know about whether schools will be ready to reopen

Teachers raise concern over introducing mass testing before students return

School children wearing face masks on their return to classrooms in Scotland
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

School leaders have raised concerns that implementing safety measures and mass testing before students return on 8 March may be impossible.

Boris Johnson announced on Monday that all schools in England would reopen their doors on 8 March in the first stage of his four-phase roadmap for ending the UK’s third and what he hopes is the final lockdown.

“It is thought a few days’ flexibility may be built in to allow measures like testing to be put in place,” the BBC reports. However, schools have still cautioned that they may be unable to meet such an imminent deadline.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, told The Times that “testing all secondary school pupils three times on site is a huge logistical challenge.

“Without significant extra support some schools and colleges may need longer than a week to enable all students to be tested prior to returning to the classroom,” she said.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England, said that he backed schools reopening despite it creating situations “where infection is brought into the household”. Schools must open their doors again “because of the welfare of children - mental, educational, physical, the whole spread of child welfare - depends upon them going back to school”, he added.

Jack Marsh, a teacher at John Stainer community primary school in Brockley, south London, told The Guardian that “teachers should have the option to be vaccinated before they return”, adding that “otherwise, I don’t think schools can be safely reopened”.

However, Health Secretary Matt Hancock this weekend ruled out prioritising teachers in the vaccine queue, saying “there isn't strong evidence that teachers are more likely to catch Covid than any other group”, The Sun reports.

“We’ve asked the expert group, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, what order we should vaccinate in, broadly in order to reduce the number of deaths as fast as possible,” Hancock added. “I’ll leave it for the JCVI to set out what they think is the best order in which to do this that minimises the number of deaths.”

George, a 21-year-old sixth-form teacher in London, told The Guardian that he felt safer when only the children of key workers and vulnerable students were allowed to attend school in person. “We’ve done all we can, but there’s not much you can do to stop transmission when you’ve got hundreds of people from different boroughs in one building,” he said.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.