Staff in secondary schools in England to get weekly coronavirus testing from January
independent– Staff in secondary schools and colleges across England will have access to weekly coronavirus testing from next month, the government has announced.
Meanwhile, both students and staff identified as a close contact of a coronavirus case will be able to get a daily test over seven days under the new testing scheme, which will start in January.
Lateral flow tests – which can turn around results in a matter of minutes – will be used in the programme.
Under current guidelines, a whole “bubble” – a group that students and staff are being kept in to minimise mixing – must self-isolate if one person in the bubble tests positive.
Announcing the new testing scheme, the Department for Education (DfE) said students and staff will not need to self-isolate in this situation if they take a daily coronavirus test.
“Weekly testing should provide an extra level of reassurance to staff, and, crucially, rapid daily tests for pupils and staff who have been in contact with positive Covid cases should reduce the need for self-isolation and the disruption this causes,” Geoff Barton from the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said.
“It is essential that schools and colleges are properly supported by the government to deliver these programmes.”
The DfE said schools and colleges will be given equipment and materials needed for the testing and will be reimbursed for reasonable administrative costs such as staff time.
“This is a positive move in the right direction and one that will be welcomed by colleges,” David Hughes from the Association of Colleges said. “As with all things, implementation is key – it is vital that this happens smoothly and quickly, with as little impact on staff workload and learning time as possible.”
While Paul Whiteman from school leaders’ union NAHT welcomed regular testing for secondary school staff, he said the union was “extremely concerned self-administered tests are not being made available to primary school staff too”.
“We know that social distancing is incredibly difficult when working with younger pupils and as such it seems only right that they also have access to regular Covid tests,” he said.
The new testing scheme from January follows pilots that have taken place during the autumn term, and a rollout of mass testing across secondary schools in parts of London, Essex and Kent.
Dr Susan Hopkins, a senior medical adviser to Public Health England (PHE) and NHS Test and Trace, said the lateral flow devices that will be used “are a vital additional tool in helping us detect Covid-19 cases that we wouldn’t otherwise know about”.
“In schools these tests can help make students and staff safer by helping us quickly identify many people who are unknowingly carrying high levels of the virus, preventing them from passing it on to others,” she said.
Experts have previously suggested relying on rapid tests that give a result in minutes could mean a high proportion of cases are missed with false negative results.
These rapid coronavirus tests were failing to identify up to 50 per cent of positive infections, according to the government’s own analysis published in early December.
Announcing England’s new schools testing scheme from next month, the UK education secretary said: “This huge expansion of rapid testing for those working in education is a milestone moment in our work to keep schools and colleges open for all.”
Gavin Williamson added: “Testing on this scale brings real benefits to education, it means more children, teachers and staff can stay in their classes in schools and colleges without the need to self-isolate.”
It comes after Wales announced regular coronavirus testing in schools and colleges from January, with staff and pupils who come into contact with an infected person asked to take a Covid-19 test every day for 10 days or self-isolate.