A number of teachers, parents and carers from across the constituency have been in touch to warn that delays in COVID testing and problems receiving results are affecting Bristol children’s education, leading to staff shortages and pupils needlessly isolating.

I’ve written to the heads of all schools in Bristol West, regarding the government’s ineffectual COVID-19 test and trace programme. See my letter below.

I will be following up with my Labour colleagues leading on this nationally. Children cannot miss more of their education due to Tory government incompetence.



Thursday 15 October 2020


Dear headteacher,

RE: Test and trace system putting children’s education at risk

I am writing to you regarding concerns that people working in Bristol’s education sector have raised with me. Many parents, teachers and school staff in Bristol West who are worried that children’s education is being affected by problems with the government’s broken test and trace system. Please let me and my team know if this is affecting your school. Bristol’s schoolchildren cannot miss more of their education because of government incompetence.

As you will know when teachers or pupils feel unwell, they are trying to get tested. But difficulties getting tests, long travel times to testing centres and long waits for results mean staff members are forced to isolate from school, leading to unsustainable – and completely avoidable – staff shortages.

This is putting huge pressure on teachers and staff who have worked so hard to make schools safe. At least one teacher told me that if these problems continue, some of Bristol’s schools may have to close, not from COVID-19 itself, but from staff shortages caused by the chaotic test and trace system.

In some Bristol schools, large numbers of students are having to isolate long periods while they wait for a classmate’s test results to come back. As the number of COVID-19 cases rise, I worry these situations will become increasingly common.

I am raising these problems with colleagues in the Shadow Education team and with the local media. As the Member of Parliament representing a large number of secondary schools, primary schools and nurseries, it is my duty to sound the alarm when I see a growing number of similar concerns coming into my inbox.

I am immensely grateful to everyone who has worked to get schools open again. The national lockdown bought us some time to sort out test and trace – but the government wasted this time. As a result of this incompetence, our schools will probably be on the front line of another entirely predictable, and preventable, crisis.

I am also keen to promote better understanding of COVID-19 transmission in schools. I am speaking to researchers at the University of Bristol, working on the COMMinS study of transmission in children and the symptoms they exhibit. This internationally important work involves 24 schools across the Bristol area. I am working to increase awareness of their findings as they emerge – which could prove key in slowing the spread of the virus as we go into a very difficult winter.

Many of you have also asked me to push the government for clarity on next year’s A Levels and GCSEs after the fiasco of this year’s algorithm chaos. I’ve written to the Secretary of State for Education to ask him to deal with this urgently and I’m pleased that this week there is some progress in that he has said exams will be pushed back to the end of summer term to give students more time to catch up on the curriculum missed during the lockdown.

If you would like me to raise some of the problems your school is facing during this difficult time, please get in touch.


Thangam Debbonaire, MP for Bristol West

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