Following the government’s announcement that schools can return from March 8 after Covid testing of pupils, Swanmore College will run almost 600 tests a day to ensure students can safely return.
The 10-day programme, which aims to get the school’s 1,300 pupils back in the classroom as soon as possible, saw youngsters from two year groups being tested on Wednesday morning.
The programme is the brainchild of Chris Loveday, a member of the senior leadership team who put together the plan and is overseeing its delivery after the task was delegated to him by the headteacher, Kyle Jonathan.
He said: ‘It’s been phenomenal, I’ve got to say. I wasn’t apprehensive but I was nervous - it’s an undertaking, trying to do the best part of 600 tests.
‘With five year groups, trying to test them within the government’s guidelines of three to five days between tests, it was a logistical challenge.
‘We want to meet the government’s guidelines and we want our pupils back safely as quickly as possible, so we put together a programme that’s seen us do two year groups a day today and tomorrow, one on Friday, and then we repeat the process two more times.’
This means that Year 7 and Year 11 pupils, who have had their first test on Wednesday, will have their second test next Monday when they are on site.
Year 8 and 10 pupils will have their second test on Tuesday, and Year 9s will have their second test on Wednesday, meaning the whole school is back with two tests from Wednesday.
Staff are also tested at a minimum of twice a week.
Chris said: ‘It means we’ll be able to reopen the college from March 8, which is when the government said is the earliest we can have them back, and everybody knows they’ve two clear tests.
‘Our online teaching provision has been really good but children don’t have the same experience when they’re at home, learning off a screen.’
Eight members of the teaching staff and four support staff have been helping deliver the programme this week.
Chris said: ‘I can’t thank my staff enough for their work in delivering this testing programme.
‘They’re working tirelessly - it’s not an easy task, standing on your feet all day, turning out test after test. It’s not their job, but they’ve done it with a smile.’
The Swanmore College staff will be replaced by a team of 26 community volunteers next week when they return to their normal roles.
These new community volunteers are being given the relevant training and are due to come into Swanmore College later this week to get support from the school’s testers.
Chris said: ‘We’ve been really blessed with our local community supporting the programme.
‘It’s testament to the community feel of our school and our catchment, that everybody wants to do their bit to get us back open as quickly as we can but safely.
‘The leadership team are entirely grateful to their staff and the community coming together to enable this to happen.’
Swanmore College has seen a high consent rate for the testing programme and in some circumstances parents are able to test their children at home, meaning that the vast majority of the school will be tested before returning to class.
Chris said: ‘By the time we return, 95 per cent of the school community should be tested which is a really reassuring position for us to be in.
‘From our perspective, to be one of the only schools in Hampshire that are fulfilling the three to five day criteria, that started testing early so that our children can return to face to face live lessons with a teacher, is something to be proud of.