A HEADTEACHER has warned that unless the coronavirus testing system is improved, it is unlikely schools will be able to remain fully open to pupils.

Ladybridge High School headteacher Patrick Russell says schools are “desperate” to remain open but delays in getting a test and the subsequent result is hampering this.

The school has had to close two bubbles of positive coronavirus tests, and currently has staff and pupils waiting for tests and results.

The school’s year seven and year ten bubbles have temporarily closed.

Mr Russell said: “It is incredibly disappointing to have to close year group bubbles and ask our learners to self-isolate.

“Our learners arrived at the start of term happy, focused and keen to learn.

“The behaviour, attitudes and positivity of our learners has been amazing. To then have to ask them to remain at home has been awful.

“We know that improving and increasing testing would make a huge difference to schools.

“We have staff, learners and family members self-isolating who are either struggling to get a test or are waiting for test results.

“It would make a massive difference if people could get a test and the result in 24 hours.

“If the result is negative, then the learner or staff member could return to school. In cases where the result is positive, we could then quickly get the right people to self-isolate through the track and trace system, reducing the potential spread of the virus.

“A lot is being done locally to sort the issue but it is a national problem. The testing system is chaotic at best. Members of the school community have spent countless hours trying to book a test online.”

Teachers have previously told The Bolton News that covid-19 tests are like gold dust, with staff battling for hours to get a test.

Mr Russell said the school was increasingly concerned as the cold and flu season approaches.

He said: “We have made it clear to staff, learners and parents to follow the government guidance.

“If someone has any of the symptoms, they must self-isolate and get tested. I did this last week when my daughter had a high temperature. It was always likely that it was a seasonal virus rather than covid-19, which was later confirmed. However, it is a concern and frustration that delays to tests are leading to people isolating when they could be in work, or in school learning.

"We are desperate to remain fully open for all learners every day. Unfortunately, without improvements to the testing system, this is unlikely.”

More than a dozen schools in Bolton have been forced to close bubbles following a positive coronavirus test ­— but all children are still receiving an education after remote learning kicked in.

At St James CE High School pupils are still working to their curriculum timetable and at Spindle Point Primary, which has all but one year group self-isolating, is working hard to create a vibrant school community online.

Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, has called on the Government to prioritise the education sector for the allocation of tests in light of widespread challenges.

Three organisations representing school leaders and governors have also implored Boris Johnson to “take charge” of tackling the delays in obtaining covid-19 tests to ensure schools remain open.

The letter – from the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), school leaders’ union NAHT and the National Governance Association – warns heads are in an “impossible situation”.

The ASCL said it has received 264 responses from schools and colleges in recent days where leaders have said they have symptomatic staff and/or pupils who were struggling to access tests.

“Schools are left in a position of either leaving close contacts of the infected person in school while they wait for guidance, or making a public health call themselves and deciding on who to send home,” the letter says.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said each school was given 10 home-testing kits at the start of term and schools can now order more from the NHS directly.

Rob Halfon, chairman of the Commons Education Committee, asked if he could guarantee pupils and teachers who need local covid-19 tests would be able to get them within 48 hours in the event of outbreaks.

Mr Williamson replied: “Schools have worked tremendously hard to put protective measures in place that are helping reduce the risk."

"These measures have meant children and young people can continue with their education.”