NNoSS: Findings of a survey of members on lateral flow testing in special schools

5th February 2021

The National Network of Special Schools carried out a survey of members, all School Business Professionals in special or alternative provision settings, at the end of January to help build a picture of what testing looks like in special school settings following the introduction of lateral flow testing.

KEY POINTS

Testing – Most respondents have now begun testing, with just over 40% testing staff only, and just over 45% are testing both staff and students. Testing is mostly being carried out by support staff and senior leadership teams. Over 9000 tests were reported as having taken place, with the vast majority of these being negative. 66% reported no positive tests for staff, and for students this figure was almost 90%.

Workload – The impact on staff workload is significant, with almost 65% spending at least an additional 2 hours per week, over 23% spending between 5 – 10 hours per week, and over 18% spending more than 10 hours per week on the process. 36% felt this was unsustainable, however over 63% agreed that they would make it work for the greater good. The backlog of work because of this commitment may need addressed at some point.

Wellbeing – The majority of SBPs felt the responsibility of testing was causing them added stress and anxiety. Although most are not yet testing students, the majority of those that are reported students finding it moderately or very traumatic. However, staff generally find it reassuring. All respondents wanted to see school staff prioritised for a vaccine and a large percentage would support moving to the primary model of testing being done at home.

In Depth Analysis

The National Network of Special Schools for School Business Professionals (NNoSS) carried out a survey of members to help build a picture of what testing looks like in special school settings following the introduction of lateral flow testing.

61 SBPs responded to the survey:
56 from special schools and 5 from PRU
33 from maintained schools and 28 from MATs, free or foundation schools

48 of these were all through schools; 8 secondary and 5 primaries

Testing

The majority of respondents have now begun the testing process. Currently, just over 40% are testing staff only, and just over 45% are testing both staff and students.

When asked who was carrying out the tests, this was mostly being done by support staff and senior leadership teams. 27 responses said that support staff made up 1-3 members of their testing teams, and 19 said they made up 4-6.

For SLT, 46 said that they made up 1-3 members of their testing team.

Very few schools have taken on extra staff to cover this and 12 have enlisted a small amount of help from volunteers and governors.  8 Schools have a medically trained member of staff on their testing team. Some schools reported a real team effort between SLT, Governors and staff to get the system up and running.

Amazed that we have managed to pull it off, thanks to our fantastic team

The process involves approx. 20 members of staff for a minimum of 2 hours a day 3 days a week

We do not have the staff capacity in school to operate it

Now all running extremely smoothly and the NHS coming to do a check of our procedures

We asked if pupils were finding the testing process traumatic. There were varied responses with a lot of schools not currently testing children.  This may be because they have not reached that stage yet, but others reported that the procedure was too ‘invasive’ for their pupils.

At the time of writing the positive cases were low as 66% reported no positive tests for staff, and for students this figure was almost 90%.

The impact on the staff has, to some extent, been positive as they have an added peace of mind, and we have allowed staff to be tested as often as they wish to do so

Now all running extremely smoothly and the NHS coming to do a check of our procedures

Staff find it reassuring

Questions regarding the validity of the tests have been raised due to the low number of positive results in the initial days of testing.

Very concerned about the accuracy of the tests and whether all the time spent on it is worthwhile

There is also significant concern that these tests are not reliable enough

I don’t feel that the testing process is viable. Low % of result rate, false negatives etc

Just under half reported testing groups other than staff and students. This includes:

Just under half reported testing groups other than staff and students. This includes:

Just under half reported testing groups other than staff and students. This includes:

therapists
transport staff
catering staff
cleaning staff
other visitors to the site.

Costs

There were a variety of costs related to setting up the testing process, with responses ranging from £100 to over £4,000. Most responses though were between £500 and £1,000. Some of these costs are ongoing, such as staffing costs and provision of PPE. These weekly costs range between £100 and £500.

We need clarity over when we will know the fund allocations for the testing

and when we will know how to reclaim other associated costs, e.g. screens, cleaning equipment etc. 

A timescale would be helpful

Impact on SBPs

SBPs reported that the impact of testing on their workload is considerable in most cases with almost 65% spending at least an additional 2 hours per week, over 23% spending between 5 – 10 hours per week, and over 18% spending more than 10 hours per week on the process.  This is causing concern regarding keeping on top of the ‘day job’ with an already increased workload.

While over 36% felt this was unsustainable over 63% agreed that they would make it work for the greater good, and where even just one positive case was picked up it made the process worthwhile.  As the testing process moves on it is becoming less burdensome and staff are feeling reassured by it.

Having had one positive test, I can see the value

I do think it takes a lot of time and impacts on the work that we should be doing

There seems to be little understanding that the Business Leader role has increased dramatically over the last year, on top of an already full-time role

However, some did question the reason behind the administrative burden of registering negative tests and felt if there was no need to register these then this would lessen the testing workload substantially.

Registering negative tests is very time consuming

Some SBPs felt the responsibility of testing was causing them added stress and anxiety. This was mainly around the weight of responsibility of having to oversee the testing and the backlog of work because of it, which may need addressed at some point.

When we were given testing as a responsibility just before Christmas, I honestly thought this was the thing that would finish me off. Amazed that we have managed to pull it off, thanks to our fantastic team.

There is huge anxiety from staff projected onto school leaders

Primary vs Secondary model of testing

Almost 70% of the respondents felt it would be beneficial to move to the primary model of testing with tests being done at home rather than at school, making for a more sustainable situation.

Self-testing at home is the way forward but discovered today that we are not included in the roll out of this

Home testing by staff would be a sustainable alternative option for our school

With the doubling of testing it will only be sustainable if test can be done by staff at home

These tests should be allowed to be administered at home or via an LA central point.

Self-testing at home is the way forward

Issuing self-test kits to staff would reduce the number of on-site testing and alleviate the time pressures and staff time involved

Vaccines for special school staff

All the respondents would support a call for all special school staff to be vaccinated as a priority to enable them to provide a safe environment for staff and students alike.

NNoSS is a national network set up to facilitate good and best practice, to be a source of support, information, advice, guidance and continuous professional development for its members.  It engages with decision and policy makers, think tanks, and wider regional and national networks to work to create efficiencies across the sector.  The network creates a strong voice of School Business Professionals. For more information www.nnoss.co.uk or email info@nnoss.co.uk

NNoSS is supported by the Department for Education and powered by Schools North East.