Unions urge education secretary to extend free COVID testing

No 10’s Living with COVID plan ‘is likely to result in further illness and disruption to face-to-face education’

Education unions, including UNISON, have urged education secretary Nadhim Zahawi to extend the availability of free COVID-19 tests in England, beyond the end of March.

In a letter to Mr Zahawi this week, the unions insist that this is “especially important” for those attending and working in schools.

Under the government’s Living with COVID plan, most people in England will no longer receive free PCR or lateral flow tests after 1 April.

But with cases still high – and rising – and hospital admissions rising across all age groups, the unions believe the move could have “harmful consequences for the most vulnerable in society.”

They add that removing the facility for asymptomatic testing for staff and pupils, “is likely to result in further illness and disruption to face-to-face education.

“Further, it will mean staff and pupils absent with COVID will not be able to determine when they are no longer infectious. This could lead to unnecessary prolonged absence from school.”

The unions also note an Office for National Statistics report on 3 March, which identifies education as one of the sectors with the greatest proportion of people with long COVID, along with health and social care.

“This represents another reason to ensure the risk of transmission is reduced as much as possible,” they write. “Beyond the individual impact, the health of a workforce still with significant recruitment and retention difficulties has a direct effect on pupils’ education.”