Fórsa trade union, which represents school secretaries, caretakers and special needs assistants (SNAs) working in primary schools, has responded to the announcement that arrangements for a new system of antigen testing in primary schools, of asymptomatic close contacts, is to be put in place by the HSE.
In a statement, the union’s head of education Andy Pike said: “Fórsa acknowledges the Government decision, announced today, that antigen testing will be made available to students in primary schools, as a long overdue step towards improving Covid protection in schools.”
The new testing service will provide free antigen tests where a student in a pod receives a positive PCR result. Parents will be contacted and informed of a positive case in the pod and offered the opportunity to avail of antigen testing, with three tests to be taken.
If any of the tests are positive the student must be referred for a PCR test. Where a second case is identified in a different pod within seven days, the full class will be offered antigen testing. Students will be able to attend school whilst antigen testing is being carried out, provided they do not have any symptoms of Covid-19.
While this is not a full return to the previous contact tracing protocol, these new measures will increase protections for students and staff.
Mr Pike added: “We welcome the decision to provide antigen testing in primary schools. While this is not a full return to the previous contact tracing protocol, these new measures will increase protections for students and staff.
“The new protocol specifically allows schools to inform parents of positive cases, bringing months of confusion to an end, and will ensure that staff and parents are aware of positive cases, enabling appropriate steps to be taken.
“However, ministers and their departments should be under no illusions. School staff expect more timely interventions in other areas where the Covid response plans in schools require revision and updating.
“Simple practical steps must be taken. These include the provision of air filtration devices to improve air quality, and a campaign to encourage the use of face coverings. Both measures, if implemented, would further increase the effectiveness of the Covid response in our schools. Unions had been requesting antigen testing for more than a year. We urge ministers to act far more quickly to implement the other necessary measures.”
Fórsa trade union represents more than 15,000 education staff in schools and early education, as well as clerical, administrative, management staff in institutes of technology and education and training boards.