Concerns over Covid-19 testing for schools

One of the borough's rapid testing sites at Kempe Hall, Bullsmoor
One of the borough’s rapid testing sites at Kempe Hall, Bullsmoor

Report by Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Testing remains unavailable at Enfield’s schools but the council leader has pledged to provide rapid Covid-19 testing at a series of other sites.

Nesil Caliskan said all students and teaching staff who would be continuing to physically attend school during the current national lockdown could get lateral flow tests at the borough’s testing sites – after it became clear schools would not have the resources to set up their own tests.

Lateral flow tests provide results in as little as 20 minutes, compared to a day or longer for other types of Covid-19 test. Schools are currently only open to children of key workers and vulnerable children for face-to-face learning and will not re-open fully until at least mid-February.

Cllr Caliskan said: “The government announced before the end of [autumn] term that they wanted lateral flow testing rolled out across schools. We did a survey, and it was quite clear schools were not going to have it in time for January.

“Schools will open eventually, and my concern is we know schools exacerbate the spread of the virus. Schools are saying ‘we do not have the capacity or resources to have this set up’. We are expanding our existing testing capacity.”

Cllr Calsikan welcomed the U-turn by the government last week on opening schools. But the leader said she was “appalled” by the government’s original decision to leave some local authorities off the list of closures, before the new lockdown was announced.

“[We tried] to convince the government they had made the wrong decision,” Cllr Caliskan said. “It was really problematic and quite clearly not based on the scientific evidence or in the interest of public health. It felt like it was a political decision to try and exclude London boroughs.

“From Enfield’s perspective, thousands travel to other boroughs every day during term time, so it was quite clearly a problem.”

The council leader added that school closures would highlight the issue of inequalities in remote learning once again, as some pupils do not have access to digital devices.

When the U-turn on London primary schools was announced, the government said it came “following a further review of the transmission rates”. It added that decisions on school closures were “taken working closely with Public Health England, Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS”.

To support remote education, the Department for Education (DfE) is planning to deliver one million devices around the country.

Rapid Covid-19 tests are now available at Brigadier Hall in Cedar Road, Lavender Hill; Kempe Hall in Kempe Road, Bullsmoor; Klinger Hall in Copperfield Mews, Edmonton; Southgate Library in High Street, Southgate; Green Towers Community Centre in Plevna Road, Edmonton; and John Wilkes House in High Street, Ponders End.

DfE was approached for comment.