'Short term pain for long term gain' - Head of Hornchurch school reacts to delayed return ahead of mass testing

Val Masson

Headteacher of Hornchurch High School Val Masson has given her thoughts on the delayed return of secondary schools to prepare for mass testing. - Credit: Hornchurch High School

The headteacher of Hornchurch High School has reacted to the news that students will return late to allow mass testing preparations to take place.

Val Masson supports the plans, but laments that they have been introduced "very late in the day".

Education secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed yesterday (Wednesday December 30) that secondary schools won't return until January 11 at the earliest.

Ms Masson said: "I wish they had decided it earlier, but we will pull out all the stops to ensure that all our students get tested."

She does see the benefit in mass testing, particularly for detecting asymptomatic cases: "At Hornchurch High School we have students travelling in from all parts of Havering, and from Barking and Dagenham.

"This means it's even more important for us to administer the tests, in support of reducing the numbers of students in the community who have coronavirus but are asymptomatic and are unwittingly spreading the virus.

"The parents of our students are very responsible, and respond quickly if their children show symptoms, but so many students are asymptomatic, and so testing will help enormously."

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The headteacher also addressed the impact this should have on minimising disruption.

Describing the delayed start as "short term pain for long term gain", she said: "The worst thing for students is to be constantly yo-yoing in and out of school, and this is what we saw last term in Havering. The testing regime will help to stop that."

There is a lot to do before January 11. While plans are "very clear", and training packages have been provided, it is still to be decided which staff will administer tests (at least seven will be required). Testing a full year group should take around one day.

There is one big change to the protocol for positive cases. Previously, those in close proximity were also sent home; now they will stay in school and be tested every seven days.

Only those testing positive will be sent home to do a PCR test, not to return unless it's negative. 

Though the headteacher acknowledges it will take "a lot of planning", she is optimistic "most schools" will meet the January 18 deadline to get all staff and students tested.

Havering's cabinet member for education, Cllr Robert Benham, has given the following statement on the overall situation. 

“Parents across the borough have been doing their bit across the Christmas break and following the Tier 4 guidance. However, our case rate is still one of the highest in the country and our hospitals are under significant pressure.

“I know this will cause inconvenience and beyond for some parents and carers, but this suspension of face-to-face learning is essential to keeping the virus under control.

“I urge everyone in the borough to continue following the guidance and in particular work from home if you can, wear a mask when out of the home and maintain social distancing and regular hand washing.

“I would also like to thank the headteachers and teachers in the borough who will continue to do their all to give the best possible education to our children as they have done across this most difficult of years.

"School staff will be working exceptionally hard to deliver remote learning but also preparing to welcome back pupils in person when the time is right.”