A HEADTEACHER has said schools are now under intense pressure caused by serious failings in the Government’s Covid testing system.

Jane Davis, who leads Lanchester Primary School, in County Durham, featured in a Channel 4 Dispatches investigation, broadcast last night, into the UK’s handling of the pandemic.

Lockdown Chaos: How the Government Lost Control, showed an undercover reporter working at Randox, the medical diagnostics firm based in Northern Ireland, as part of its examination of the NHS Test and Trace system.

Mrs Davis said her school was at ‘breaking point’ in September due to failures in the testing system, which meant people were unable to get appointments.

She said now headteachers across County Durham have got classes and year groups ‘learning from home’ and dozens of staff absent as they are having to self-isolate.

Mrs Davis said: “It is a still a mess. Staffing is a nightmare. We have got to keep safe and we need extra staff at the moment because we have got so many different play times and lunch times to keep the children safe.

“We are having to work with less staff because so many are self-isolating through no fault of their own.

“We are taking it a day at a time.

“It will be interesting to see what happens between now and Christmas. It is going to be a long five weeks until we break up for the holidays.”

In early September Health Secretary Matt Hancock told The Northern Echo ‘schools are safe, we know that’.

But Durham County Council said in the period from September 4 to November 2, there had been 99 confirmed cases among pupils in primary schools out of a total population of 42,000 children.

In the same period, there were 122 cases among students in secondary schools out of a population of 29,000.

Richard Crane, Durham County Council’s head of education and sills, said: “We have been working very closely with schools throughout the coronavirus pandemic, offering them support and advice on infection control to help provide a Covid secure environment for children and staff.

“We would like to pay tribute to everyone who works in county schools for their part in keeping children and young people, as well as other members of staff, safe; and are committed to supporting them to ensure this continues.”

The documentary showed undercover footage of a reporter being told that used tests sent to Randox for analysis are sometimes not unpacked properly and accidentally discarded with cardboard packaging waste.

There was evidence that one particular type of test frequently leaks and has to be voided meaning no results are available.

The reporter discovers that although leaking samples are often spotted while still in their plastic bag, this is not always the case. He finds that leaks from tests can spill over the gloves of employees and is told by one staff member that his gloves are not always thrown away but sprayed down with disinfectant.

The film’s shooting producer Alice McShane said: “We came to the North-East in September when cases were rising to see the effect on real people of Government decisions made over the summer.

"No examples were more stark than at Lanchester Primary School.

"Headteacher Jane Davis told us that the school was almost on its knees just one week after returning in September, with staff off for days while waiting for test results, and two classes sent home to self-isolate.

“We hope people watching in the North-East will feel the programme has gone some way towards highlighting the issues they have faced over the course of the pandemic.”

Randox responded to Dispatches, saying there has “never been an issue of samples being mistakenly disposed of”.

Staff are adequately supervised and instructed on the need to ensure “samples are correctly processed”, they said.

The firm said Randox is aware the red lidded tubes are “more likely to leak” but say they do not manufacture them. They said they “raised this concern” with the Test and Trace programme coordinators in August.

The Department of Health and Social Care told Dispatches that they have “started UK-based tube manufacturing with these tubes designed to minimise leakage.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “We recognise this is a challenging time and are hugely grateful to the school leaders, teachers and staff for ongoing extraordinary work to ensure children continue to receive the education and support they deserve.”