Attendees of secondary schools and colleges across England are to get weekly Covid-19 tests from January, the government has confirmed.
Lateral flow tests will be deployed to all staff and students in an effort to detect asymptomatic cases and break chains of transmission from January.
Roughly one in three people have the virus without symptoms, meaning they could be spreading the disease unknowingly.
Rapid Covid testing
Both students and staff will be eligible for weekly rapid tests from January, as part of an initial rollout. Students will also be eligible for daily testing for seven days if they are identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive for Covid-19.
Under current guidelines, up to a whole school bubble has to self-isolate if one student or staff member tests positive.
However, from January, students in the same bubble will not need to self-isolate if they agree to be tested once a day, helping to improve attendance in education and ensuring students can benefit from face to face teaching as much as possible.
Staff will also be eligible for daily testing if they are identified as a close contact.
Primary schools will then follow the initial roll out, with testing to be implemented as quickly as possible over the spring term.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson 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.
“I know it has taken a phenomenal effort from everyone to ensure approximately 99 per cent of schools have been open each week since the start of term.
“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.
“Consent will be given in all cases by the staff member, student, or parent as appropriate. Close contacts of positive cases who do not want to participate in daily testing will still be able to self-isolate as is currently the case.”
First week of January
Guidance, training materials and webinars will soon be made available to secondary schools and colleges, and test kits are due to arrive at secondary schools and colleges for the first phase of rollout to staff from the first week of January.
There is no expectation that school and college staff will need to work on this over the Christmas break, and existing staff meetings or inset days can be used for training.
The government will provide the necessary equipment and materials to deliver the testing and schools and colleges will be reimbursed for administrative costs, such as staff time.
Dr Susan Hopkins, Senior Medical Adviser to Public Health England and NHS Test and Trace, added, “Lateral flow devices are a vital additional tool in helping us detect Covid-19 cases that we wouldn’t otherwise know about, meaning that we can break chains of transmission and save lives.
“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.”