Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, has called on the Government to prioritise the education sector for the allocation of tests in light of the challenges.
In a letter to the schools minister, Dr Roach said the union had heard of approximately 600 pupils being told to self-isolate in one local authority area and he said the “number is growing”.
The union leader told Nick Gibb that pupils who have been sent home with symptoms are “facing uncertainty” about when or where they will be able to access a test.
He warned that the delays in testing have meant some students and staff who are part of a “bubble” within a school are not being isolated even where there are multiple suspected cases.
“This is putting at risk the health and safety of others within the school and within the local community,” Dr Roach said.
Schools have been hit with Covid-19 cases since it became compulsory for pupils to return.
Some have closed their doors days after reopening while others have told whole year groups and classes to self-isolate for two weeks following confirmed cases.
NASUWT members are “expressing serious concerns about the failure” of the testing system and the impact on schools, the letter to Mr Gibb says.
Dr Roach said: “In particular, areas where additional local restrictions have been introduced due to the increase in the R-number are now unable to cope with demand for tests.
“Teachers, support staff and children and young people are unable to access tests where they have Covid-19 symptoms.
“Employers are struggling to deal with the implications and consequences.”
Local authorities across the country – including in the North West of England – are struggling to cope with the demand for tests from pupils and school staff, the union suggests.
The letter says members have reported that there are around 600 pupils in Bury who are self-isolating, while Salford council has been inundated with requests for tests from schools.
Dr Roach said: “Schools appear to be seeking to do their utmost to carry on.
“However, we have reports that schools are unable to cope with a situation that is becoming increasingly out of control.”
The founder of Oasis Community Learning, which is responsible for 31,500 children at 52 academies across England, said 1,200 pupils had been sent home over the first six days of the new school year.
Writing in The Sun, Steve Chalke added:
“The reason is either pupils or teachers have symptoms and can’t return until they get a negative test result.”
Earlier this week, Dr Roach warned Gavin Williamson of the possibility of legal action if the Government fails to protect teachers working in schools which have fully reopened during the pandemic.
In a letter to the Education Secretary, Dr Roach demanded that stronger protections are put in place in schools which opened their doors to all pupils full-time this month.
Mr Williamson will face questions from MPs on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on pupils – including the grading U-turn over the summer.