Fears parents on zero-hours contracts will refuse Covid tests

Low permission rate for children's tests may be due to concern self-isolating will mean loss of income

Friday, 5th March 2021 — By Helen Chapman

Coronavirus

CALLS are being made for financial support for those who need to self-isolate ahead of the return to classrooms next Monday.

Under new government plans, secondary school pupils across the country will need parental permission allowing them to take lateral flow tests twice a week to help reduce the spread of Covid-19.

But in Islington headteachers are said to report just 20 per cent of parents have approved of the plans. It has raised questions about whether parents who work in the gig economy or on zero-hours contracts are cautious about being made to self-isolate and risk not getting paid.

The issue was discussed at this week’s council performance and policy scrutiny meeting.

Chief executive of Islington Council Linzi Roberts-Egan told the online meeting on Monday: “The expectation of testing is that children will be tested twice a week but at the moment permission rates for our schools, because parents need to give permission to our schools, are relatively low.

“The last count on Friday most headteachers said they only have permission from parents at a rate of circa 20 per cent. That in itself is a worry.

“There was an assumption that if your children were not tested they couldn’t actually attend school. That is not the case. It is mandatory that children do attend school, tested or not.”

The R rate in London is currently at 0.6 to 0.8 and still falling but it is expected the rate of transmission will rise when schools return.

The Easter holidays will be used as a chance to review how schools returning have impacted on rates of transmission locally. Councillor Caroline Russell questioned whether a factor meaning parents oppose school testing is because of lack of support for self-isolating.

Ms Roberts-Egan said the issue was spoken about at a monthly meeting with council chief executives across the capital, saying: “It came up again the unique nature of London and its particular employment sectors and how there are great swathes of people who can’t self-isolate because they fear not getting paid.”

Tony Buttifint, Islington NEU secretary, said: “If your child is proved positive for the test then your whole household would need to isolate.

“Therefore, parents who are in precarious employment where they are not able to take time off from their job without running the risk of not being paid, you can understand their concern around that situation arising.

“We’ve always said the government should be providing proper re­sources and proper funding for those people who are isolating to stop them being faced with a dilemma whether to isolate or have an income. That shouldn’t be the pressure people are being put under.

“We’re trying to support parents to make that step because it’s going to make the situation a lot safer.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The rapid asymptomatic testing programme for education has been set up to support the return of all students to education and help identify positive cases of Covid-19 and break the chains of transmission.

“The classroom is the very best place for education and the return of face-to-face teaching for all pupils on the March 8 will be a welcome move for pupils and parents across the country.”

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