Plantsbrook School is ready for testing challenge, says headteacher

The headteacher of Plantsbrook School says he is ‘full of confidence’ that staff can tackle mass COVID testing of students when they return – after setting up a nine-bay testing centre in the sports hall.

Jason Farr said the school, in Upper Holland Road, had been preparing for weeks for the return of pupils, creating the centre which has so far tested staff and 100-plus students who are the children of key workers or considered vulnerable.

“We chose the sports hall because we need a space that was big enough to allow a one-way system for enough socially-distanced people to be in there safely,” he said. “The PE department weren’t entirely happy at first, but they understand the long-term implications of having a suitable testing facility.”

The testing centre project has been led by team leader Phil Milligan, a former NHS professional, and is manned by a variety of staff with connections to the school.

Mr Farr said: “It’s a fantastic achievement, and testament to the school’s determination to be prepared for the challenges ahead.

Former NHS professional Phil Milligan has led the creation of the testing centre.
Former NHS professional Phil Milligan has led the creation of the testing centre.

“It’s got nine testing bays and a team of trained staff. The team is made up of part time staff who’ve taken on additional work, ex-students who have come back to help and some people who would have normally been seasonal staff – like exam invigilators.

“They’ve been trained to administer the tests and we’ve got a very, very strong team of individuals that are working on a daily basis doing the tests for staff at the moment, as well as the children of key workers.

“As well as the people carrying out the tests, it has been a huge team effort to make it happen. The school’s site staff, support services, the Director of Finance, our design technology technicians – everyone has come together to construct this testing centre using all sorts of equipment that we’ve repurposed from within the school building. It has been amazing.”

Key to the process has been team leader Phil Milligan.

Mr Farr said: “Phil has been an absolute godsend. He’s done a really thorough job of leading that part of the school, and we’re full of reassurance because of his expertise.”

With the Government announcing that schools will reopen from March 8, plans are now being considered about how to stagger the return of students to Plantsbrook to allow efficient testing.

However, Mr Farr says he has ‘every confidence’ that the centre will be able to handle the task.

“It’s a fantastic achievement, and testament to the school’s determination to be prepared for the challenges ahead,”
-headteacher jason farr

“Every single child will need to be tested – as long as they’ve been given parental consent – and they will initially need to be tested three times, within a three to five-day period.

“Once they’ve had that initial test, then the guidance at the moment is that they are then free to become part of the student body and return to a normal timetable.

“If we begin to reintroduce students in year groups, then we’re talking about 250 pupils per year. The most the testing centre has done so far is around 120 people per day – so that shows the level of scaling up that will be required.

“However, up until now they have only opened three of the nine testing bays, so we have considerable extra capacity. It’s going to be about making sure we adopt the model that we have already used, and we will probably have to stagger the arrival of tutor groups into the building once we confirm plans of who is coming back when.

“Then I think we are planning that they will arrive at the sports hall, be tested, go through the testing centre and leave the school site.  They will return to the main building once we’re clear they’ve got a negative test, which will likely be the following school day.

The centre has nine bays ready to test the school’s 1000-plus pupils when they return.
The centre has nine bays ready to test the school’s 1000-plus pupils when they return.

“I have absolute confidence in the team and system we have built – they are ready to scale up and ready to do that competently. The main challenge will be in terms of time, because that does mean we will have to stagger the students as they return, to manage the flow into the testing centre.

“If we stagger year groups, and then tutorial groups too, then it could be that it takes a few days before we have everyone back. It’s a matter of logistics, and I take my hat off to the team of people involved.

“I’m very proud of the team for the way they have pulled together to make this happen, and it’s another example of how Plantsbrook has worked hard to be prepared for the challenges caused by the pandemic.”

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