Every secondary school and college in England, as well as special schools and alternative provision, will have access to rapid coronavirus testing from January, the government has announced today (15 December).
Building on the success of testing pilots in schools and colleges over the past few months, from January all staff in secondary schools and colleges will be eligible for weekly rapid tests as part of an initial rollout.
Students will be eligible for daily testing for seven days if they are identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive. Under current guidelines, up to a whole school bubble has to self-isolate if one student or staff member tests positive.
From January, those in the same bubble do not need to self-isolate if they agree to be tested once a day. Staff will also be eligible for daily testing if they are identified as a close contact.
Primary schools will then be supported to roll out testing 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% 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.
Guidance, training materials and webinars will shortly be made available to secondary schools and colleges so they can start to use the new testing capacity as soon as possible.
The pilots that have taken place in schools and colleges over the autumn term have shown the positive impact regular testing can have in finding asymptomatic cases before they spread and reducing the need to self-isolate amongst staff and students.
Test kits will begin arriving at secondary schools and colleges for the first phase of rollout to staff from the first week of January.
Dr Susan Hopkins, Senior Medical Adviser to Public Health England and NHS Test and Trace, said: “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.”
Coronavirus testing pilot schemes have been taking place in schools over the past few weeks.
From January every secondary school and college will have access to rapid testing to help keep staff and pupils as safe as possible while ensuring education settings can remain open. pic.twitter.com/9gxn80q6Ks
— Department for Education (@educationgovuk) December 15, 2020
Schools and colleges will be provided with the equipment and materials to deliver the testing and will be reimbursed for reasonable administrative costs such as staff time.