Heads say summer exams could spread Covid without free tests

Written by on 8 April 2022

Heads say summer exams could spread Covid without free tests

Pupils sitting GCSEs and A-levels in the summer could spread Covid to other students or invigilators if free lateral flow tests are not made available, head teachers have warned.

Free Covid tests for staff and pupils stopped being available at the start of this month.

But on Friday, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said this raises the risk of pupils who are infectious sitting in exam halls, while pupils who do not have Covid could be forced to isolate and miss their exam if they suspect they are infected.

The Joint Council for Qualifications issued new guidance on how pupils missing exams because they have Covid can apply for special consideration – a process where a candidate’s grade can be adjusted to make up for the fact they have missed part of the exam for ill health, or to account for illness on the day of a paper which could disadvantage them.

It said that pupils who have symptoms of Covid, such as a high temperature, or who have a positive result on a lateral flow test and therefore needed to isolate, would be able to apply for special consideration and would not need a Covid test as evidence to do so.

Pupils can apply for special consideration through a form stating the reasons for their absence, and provided they sit at least one paper in the subject, they will be able to receive a grade. Papers in each subject will be spaced apart by 10 days in 2022 to minimise disruption to exams caused by Covid.

The guidance said that pupils with symptoms such as a high temperature should self-isolate in line with UKHSA guidance.

Headteachers have said that without free testing, this risks pupils who are infectious sitting exams and pupils who do not have Covid being forced to isolate and miss their exam.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at ASCL, said: “We welcome the fact that there is now some guidance about what happens if a candidate is unwell with symptoms that may be coronavirus, but we remain concerned that there are no plans to make Covid tests available so that students, schools and colleges know one way or another whether or not a candidate has Covid prior to sitting an exam.

“The guidance merely quotes UK Health Security Agency guidance which says that students with mild symptoms can come in while those with a high temperature are advised to stay at home.

“The fact that there are no plans to make Covid tests available means that it will be impossible to tell whether or not those symptoms are actually Covid.

“As a result, we may end up with students who have Covid and are infectious in exam halls potentially transmitting the illness to other students and invigilators, and students at home who do not actually have Covid missing exams.”

She said that the “obvious solution” would be to make free tests available so that those who have symptoms can test to avoid “a guessing game”.

“It would then be a great deal easier to advise when a student should remain at home and to apply the special consideration process – which assesses them on basis of the papers they are able to sit – to ensure that they are not disadvantaged,” she said.

“We simply cannot understand why the Government does not take this obvious and sensible step, especially as it has continually said how important it thinks public exams are.”

Headteachers argued that free tests must be reintroduced as Covid cases continue to rise in schools.

In the open letter to Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi, Geoff Barton, ASCL general secretary, and Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said that members were reporting serious levels of Covid disruption in their schools, and that it was therefore “reckless in the extreme” to abandon free tests.

Published: by Radio NewsHub

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