How an Upminster school rose to the challenge of lateral flow testing

Student Sonna Panesar sitting on boxes

Year 13 student Sonna Panesar was impressed with the school's testing and said the tests were easy to use - Credit: Sally Patterson

When students returned to school in early March after months of homeschooling, there was uncertainty about how they would cope with mass on-site testing.

In line with the government’s lockdown easing roadmap, secondary schools and colleges had to coordinate all students getting tested three times in their first two weeks back.

But Coopers’ Company and Coborn School in Upminster rose to the challenge, transforming its theatre into a safe and efficient testing centre for its 1,500 pupils.

Led by three support staff - Juliet Orton, Angie Titley and Louise Butler - the makeshift testing site had the capacity to administer around 400 lateral flow device (LFD) tests per day.

Coopers’ Company and Coborn School staff and head teacher Sue Hay

Head teacher Sue Hay (l) and support staff Louise Butler (top r) Juliet Orton (second from l) and Angie Titley (r) are proud of the schools' testing roll-out - Credit: Sally Patterson

Though tests were not compulsory, the school had around a 94 per cent take-up rate. 

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Exams and data manager Angie said: “We needed to get the students back into school as quickly as possible - they’ve missed it and the staff have missed it.

“When you’re watching the training videos, it feels very daunting, but when you’re actually doing the testing you know it’s for the greater good of the community.

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“The students were amazing - they were resilient and showed maturity, so I’m really proud.”

Students were brought to the theatre in year groups, and after completing their tests in private booths, the LFDs were passed to another station in individual baskets with the students’ forms and a stopwatch.

Testing booth Coopers’ Company and Coborn School

Each testing station was socially distanced and sanitised carefully between students - Credit: Coopers’ Company and Coborn School

The LFD tests were assisted, which means the teenagers did their own swabs under the guidance of a team of invigilators, who usually oversaw school exams, to ensure it was completed correctly and could be done at home.

Only in a handful of cases did staff administer the test, for children who found it too difficult or were nervous. 

Angie said:  “The invigilators stepped up and came forward, and they were actually outstanding.

“It was such a slick operation, so I’m proud of it, proud of the school, proud of the students and all the staff as well.”

Coopers’ Company and Coborn School staff in theatre

The school ran a slick operation in the theatre and tested up to 400 students a day - Credit: Coopers’ Company and Coborn School

Admissions and lettings manager Juliet added: “Because they already knew the students, it was less formal, and the invigilators were so friendly with them, chatting and calling them by their first names.”

The trio said they worked well together, and Juliet joked that they planned to get an office going forward.

She added: “We hope we never have to do this again, but if we did, we’ve got the perfect team ready.”

Staff wearing Coopers’ Company and Coborn School masks

The staff even wore matching Coopers’ Company and Coborn School masks - Credit: Sally Patterson

Deputy exams officer Louise said: “As a community, this has pulled us even closer together.

“We’re happy and proud of our school.”

Headteacher Sue Hay added: “I can’t be more proud of the school community.

"The support staff were amazing - they had amazing organisational skills and there was no question they were going to do it brilliantly. 

“We supported each other and we supported the wider community by doing this testing.”

Coopers’ vice captain Sonna Panesar, 17, was also impressed at the school’s testing operation and said students were in and out of the theatre in minutes.

She said: “I think the school did a really good job at putting everyone’s mind at ease. 

“From talking to peers, they all said the tests were really easy to follow and the instructions were clear.

“A few people were a bit nervous, but the school was great at making everyone comfortable.”

The A Level student is relieved to be back in the classroom as her maths, geography and economics exams loom closer.

She said: “It has been nice to see everyone and have that interaction face to face.

“Especially when you’re in your exam years, it’s important to be able to see your friends and work together, and good for our mental health.”

Sonna Panesar with sign

Vice captain Sonna Panesar is thrilled to be back at school so she can concentrate on her A Levels - Credit: Sally Patterson

Most pupils and staff are now testing themselves at home, but the school has kept one testing booth running for emergencies. 

The school continues to keep year groups separate, maintain social distancing and enforce mask wearing for all staff and students, apart from those with exemptions, including in lessons.

Cllr Damian White, leader of Havering Council, said: "We’ve been working closely with schools to spread the message about the importance of getting tested and what’s involved.

"Take up has been very high amongst schools, but it’s crucial that parents and children continue to get tested twice a week using the home testing kits to help keep everyone safe."

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