COVID-19 testing in education settings

Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 27th October 2020.

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Photo of Jennette Arnold Jennette Arnold Labour

Will you write to the Secretary of State for Education to address the need for testing to keep schools and universities open in London?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

From the very start of this pandemic it has been absolutely clear that testing, contact tracing and self‑isolation are the most important ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Without testing we simply do not have a clear picture of who is carrying this awful disease.

With cases continuing to increase across the capital it is unbelievable that the Government has still not put in place adequate testing, something I have been pressing on it for some time. I know access to testing is causing real challenges for our schools, colleges, universities, students and parents and that it is currently keeping too many children and staff away from the classroom. Over a period of just six days, one school reported 82 lost teaching days as staff waited for tests and results and 360 lost learning days as children self‑isolated or parents decided to keep their children at home due to anxiety about the spread of the virus.

We are at a crucial moment with young people back at school and college and students having returned to university. That is why last month I wrote to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care stressing how vital it is that some testing capacity is ring fenced specifically for nurseries, schools and colleges. I have yet to receive a response. The allocation to schools and colleges of 10 test kits per 1,000 students with a 21‑day wait to reorder is simply not good enough. The Government needs to act urgently so that test centres across London prioritise all education staff - including those working in early years, college and university - with results available within 24 hours.

My Deputy Mayor for Education and Childcare, Assembly Member Joanne McCartney, has been working with representatives from schools, universities and local and central Government to co‑ordinate London’s education response to the challenge of COVID-19. I understand how crucial it is that the capital’s schools, colleges and universities remain open. I will continue to press through whichever channels are necessary for a testing system that will allow them to do so.

Photo of Jennette Arnold Jennette Arnold Labour

Thank you, Mr Mayor, for that full answer. Can I take you back to the statement you just made? Do you have any information about what impact London being in tier 2 will now have on the education establishments?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Tier 2, which is high alert level, will not directly affect education establishments. What it will have an impact on is the issue of households mixing when it comes to those in families either inside the home or outside the home. We are hoping there is no adverse effect on that.

One thing I spoke to the Secretary of State for Health [The Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP] about yesterday and today was the issue of increased testing, which is really important and linked to your main question as well.

Photo of Jennette Arnold Jennette Arnold Labour

The frustration is that we do not seem to be able to get any movement on such a common‑sense approach.

In tier 2 we will have students, if you like, held in their faculties and in their universities. Who is going to be looking after their welfare? I know there is university provision but is there an overview? Is somebody planning to look at the impact this is going to have on our students, especially those in universities?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

You will be aware as a Londoner that we have hundreds of thousands of students from outside London at universities in London. The last figure I saw was 500,000. I am really worried about not just their physical health caused by COVID‑19 but their mental ill health caused by COVID-19 - the stress, the anxiety, the worry - and it is a real concern. They are away from their families, often for the first time, in unfamiliar surroundings with people they do not really know and they could be being told to stay in their halls of residence or their home and also told they cannot mix with others.

There is an issue also, Assembly Member Arnold, with people returning ‘home’ from other parts of the country and potentially carrying this virus and they could be asymptomatic. That is why at the root of this is an effective testing system, then contact tracing and ‑‑

Photo of Jennette Arnold Jennette Arnold Labour

Mr Mayor, I will finish it by saying you will know and I know - but people forget - that 25% of London’s population is aged under 25 and they are so often overlooked. I know that you are as committed as I am and others are to ensuring their welfare. Please get somebody on this case and keep your foot on the pedal because somebody has to be speaking up for our young people. Otherwise, we are going to have a lost generation in London because of this virus. Thank you.