One year on: How one Harborough school has coped with the 'absolutely massive' challenge of Covid testing

This is one of three features our reporter has written after interviews with staff and pupils at the Welland Park Academy

By Red Williams
Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 5:54 pm

As part of a feature marking the first year since lockdown, Harborough Mail reporter Red Williams and photographer Andrew Carpenter went to Welland Park Academy to speak to the teachers and the pupils. This is one of three features Red wrote about how the school has coped with the pandemic. This article is based on his interview with the person in charge of the testing programme.

The woman who’s headed up the sweeping Covid-19 testing programme at Welland Park Academy is admitting – it’s been absolutely massive.

Nicki Burgess’s day-to-day job is as personal assistant to Julie McBrearty, the head of the 960-pupil secondary school in Market Harborough.

Nicki Burgess’s day-to-day job is as personal assistant to Julie McBrearty, the head at Welland Park Academy. But she has stepped in to the breach to take over as team leader as over 3,000 coronavirus tests have been carried out on students, teachers and staff. Photo by Andrew Carpenter.

But she has stepped in to the breach to take over as team leader as over 3,000 coronavirus tests have been carried out on students, teachers and staff at the Welland Park Road school.

And amazingly not one of those crucial lateral flow checks has proved positive.

A much-loved stalwart behind the scenes at Welland Park school for 17 years, Nicki took time out from her non-stop regime to tell the Harborough Mail: “It’s been absolutely massive – immense from start to finish!

“And, actually, we still haven’t finished.

“Testing looks set to run and run until the end of this academic year in July – and we’ll run with it every inch of the way.”

She said they acted to set up the school’s testing centre after Christmas.

“We saw it coming on down the line.

“So a few of us came in at the end of December to start converting our sports hall,” said Nicki.

“We have had about 20 of us in our team rolling this out.

“It’s obviously critical that we get it right so we have thrown everything at this.

“Our support staff, governors and volunteers have been brilliant as we’ve launched this huge enterprise,” stressed Nicki.

“I was there all day every day as we got this up and rolling.

“We did about 120 tests on staff, vulnerable children and the children of key workers between January and March 8 during the second lockdown.

“And then it really took off as all of our students were allowed back to school.

“We were carrying out tests thick and fast between 8.15am and 4pm every day.

“Families have got behind us as over 98 per cent of parents consented to us testing their children,” said Nicki.

“We carried out three tests on pupils and staff in an eight-day burst.

“We had to wear full personal protection equipment such as visors to test everyone.

“It was very daunting for our students at first,” said Nicki.

“But by the end we were playing the classic disco track YMCA and we were all singing and dancing along to it – it was huge fun!

“All the administration work has taken up so much time and effort.

“We have had to register people individually every time we have tested them, greatly adding to our workload,” said Nicki.

“One weekend me and my daughter spent hours at home pre-registering 960 students and 150 staff – it was crazy but we got it done!

“The kids are now testing themselves twice a week at home as the fight to combat and beat Covid after this very strange year goes on.

“It’s a full-time job just monitoring and collating all the results.

“Each student has got their own specific code.

“The mass testing here at school is now done and behind us.

“But we have just had another 3,000 home testing kits delivered here today – exactly a year to the day since the first virus lockdown was brought in.

“So I’m sure that home testing will go on until the students end their academic year here in July,” said Nicki.

“This has obviously been an unprecedented health and safety operation.

“So the fact that it’s gone so well and effectively is enormous testament to the fantastic people we have here at Welland Park school.

“We’ve been rushed off our feet and it’s been very tiring.

“But we have a top-class team here with everyone backing up everyone else.

“And our students and staff deserve a great big pat on the back because we’ve not had one positive test – so they are all clearly abiding by the rules and doing the right thing.”

And on a very different note, Nicki is also helping to power up two extra-special Proms for Year 11 pupils leaving the school this summer – and who have already left.

“We are very excited to be inviting back our last year’s GCSE students for their Prom here on Friday July 2.

“They very sadly missed out last year, of course, amid the pandemic,” said Nicki, of Lubenham.

“The poor kids did amazingly well to raise £8,500 for their City Glamour-themed big night out.

“So they can’t wait to roll up here a year later and hit the red carpet.”

This year’s Year 11 stars – about 200 of them - will be getting down to boogie 24 hours later on Saturday July 3.

“They’ve got a vintage shabby chic theme.

“Even through the lockdowns they’ve already raked in £4,000 through so many fundraising events as cake baking, raffles, even a virtual marathon.

“I’m sure they’ll also end up generating £8,500.

“The Prom is an amazing rite of passage for students leaving us so it will be phenomenal to see them all pitch up in their big cars to whoop it up at their big celebrations in the summer.

“I’m buzzing, just as excited as they are, and here’s to much happier sunnier days to come for all of us after this awful year in the summer!”