A NETWORK representing 1,150 schools in the North-East, led by head teachers, has written to the Education Secretary asking for school Covid testing to be prioritised in a bid to prevent staff shortages – a problem it describes as a "crisis".

Based on feedback from schools and in consultation with its trustees, Schools North East is calling on Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to prioritise covid testing for teachers after difficulty has created a "significant" impact and left teachers out of school for days.

Schools North East director, Chris Zarraga said: "Our schools have worked incredibly hard to ensure a safe return for students and staff despite constantly changing and even contradictory guidance, however delays in the testing system and the lack of availability at local test centres is causing unnecessary staff absence.

"If this situation continues schools may be pushed to the point of cancelling classes and even closures.

"We support calls from head teachers and organisations such as Worth Less? for the government to take urgent action to ensure our teachers can be prioritised or regularly tested to minimise any further disruption to our students’ learning."

The letter, which was sent to MP Williamson on Tuesday, September 15, said: "Serious concerns have emerged that could seriously endanger our schools’ efforts to stay open for all of their students. Many schools are reaching crisis point due to the impact of Covid on staffing in particular.

"Of critical concern is the fact that our school leaders are being severely hampered by a test and trace system that is simply not effective.

"The difficulty of obtaining tests for staff has a significant impact on schools that are already stretched by the extra measures they have had to implement.

"Delays in testing are causing unnecessary absences, with those unable to access a test out of school for up to three or more days.

"These unnecessary absences are causing a huge strain on schools, with arranging cover more difficult due to the need to maintain regular staff members for bubbles, and the risks associated with bringing in supply teachers who may have been at other schools.

"These concerns are exacerbated in special and alternative provision schools, due to the unique challenges of their settings."

Uncertainty around exams, staffing and school budgets was also mentioned, with the network saying the region is "increasingly frustrated with the lack of a decision regarding exams and assessment for 2020-21" – something likely to create further disparity across schools.

"Schools urgently need to know what form assessments will take and what contingency plans are in place, so as not to further waste precious teaching time," it added.

Both Ofqual and Ofsted are also urged to consider account the impact of further lockdowns or school closures.