TESTING TIMES

An insight into setting up the COVID Testing Facility

3,658 coronavirus tests have been taken at PGS since the beginning of January, with the majority of these taking place since the beginning of March. With shifting timescales, priorities and guidelines, this term has certainly been a different one for Mr David Payne, Senior Deputy Head, and ‘person in charge of testing’.

“When I started out as a Geography teacher in September 2005,” reflects Mr Payne, “I had absolutely no inkling that this sort of project would ever be part of my professional experience. To be fair, I don’t think any of the staff who have been involved in delivering this could have imagined it either!”

Needing to set up a COVID testing facility in the school became a reality during the Christmas holiday, with a lot of plans being developed and put in place so that pupils in Years 11 and 13 could be tested during the week commencing 4th January, with a phased return of all the other Senior School year groups from the 11th January when they could be tested.

“The Estates Team, led by Steve Cheshire, spent the whole day on 4th January setting up the testing facility in the dance studio creating 7 different testing booths,” continued Mr Payne. “We received a huge delivery of testing kits from the government. Mrs Solly in the Human Resources department had already started to ask staff if they would undertake the government online ‘how to test’ training and would be happy to assume a very different role than normal. It was all hands-on deck and the response from all the staff was amazing, then the Prime Minister announced the national lockdown that evening.”

Whilst many pupils then stayed at home and resumed the remote timetable, some testing in school started with all staff that were on site being tested twice a week along with the children of critical workers who were in school. This gave the opportunity for the testing process to be embedded.

“We were very lucky to have many volunteering offers from members of the PGS community,” said Mr Payne. “In the end, it was a unique team from across the school that helped including Library staff, Science Technicians, sports staff, support staff and of course the cleaners. I really cannot thank everyone enough for pulling together so fantastically in order to make it work. We were also helped greatly by one of our parents coming in to oversee the initial clinical aspects of what we had set-up. Dr Hartridge came into school in January to ensure that the staff working in the facility were putting on their PPE correctly, checking that they were undertaking the tests in the right way and she also oversaw the first tests we did to ensure they were done appropriately and safely. Her advice and guidance were valuable.”

On the 22nd February 2021 it was announced that pupils would return to school on Monday 8th March. With permission from the Department of Education, pupils were invited in from the 3rd March for their first tests which meant that all pupils could return to school on the 8th March (avoiding the requirement for a phased return). There were then a further two tests for each pupil undertaken from 8th March – 15th March, including pupils (and staff) coming into school for testing on Saturday 13th March. Testing from 16th March will now be done by the pupils at home.

“We have had to be reactive at every step as guidelines and advice change frequently,” concludes Mr Payne. “This last year has been extraordinary, and this term has been challenging with what we have had to deliver to ensure that the school community is safe. Our staff have been phenomenal and incredibly supportive, and the pupils’ approach has been very responsible and cooperative. This has been a massive team effort.”

The School Testing Team that made all this happen: Mrs Claire Hanna, Miss Jenny Hill, Mr Ian Lowther, Mrs Caroline Rollins, Mr Russell Olson, Dr Sharon Coleman, Dr Lisa Gray, Mr Dean Kedward, Mr John Sadden, Mr Will Collison, Mr Harry Mobbs, Mr Adam Field, Ms Rugile Linkute, Miss Elena Gonzalez-Villamil Silva, Mrs Anna Leimeter, Mrs Helen Grist, Mrs Lucy Andrews, Mr Ray Cook, Mrs Adama Ndoye-Kurubally, Sister Claire Brown, Sister Sue Toms, Mrs Leonie Staley, Mr Steve Cheshire.