16th December 2020
The success of mass testing trials in the North has shown that regular testing of people who do not necessarily have Coronavirus symptoms can significantly reduce occurrences of virus transmission. Ensuring that both asymptomatic and symptomatic cases are isolating in line with government guidelines is vital in the fight against COVID-19 and this new scheme should reduce the number of pupils and teachers who have to isolate and help children continue to attend school in 2021.
Being in school benefits children’s education, their wellbeing and their social development. Mass testing at Secondary level should ensure that pupils can continue to reap the benefits of being in school. Whilst remote and blended learning are here to stay for the moment, the Department For Education has made it clear that keeping schools open is a priority. During the first lockdown over 700,000 pupils did not have access to a reasonable home computer or the internet, making remote learning impossible. Despite schools working hard to provide laptops or printouts, learning at home will never offer children the same experience as in-person learning does. Continuity of education is also important. School and bubble closures have continued to impact education long after schools reopening, and it’s hoped that the new mass testing scheme will significantly reduce absences.
Rapid Lateral Flow test kits will be provided to schools for weekly testing of their workforce. The test involves a simple nasal swab. Teachers and other staff will be offered a weekly test, allowing asymptomatic cases to be picked up and isolated. A negative result means the individual can carry on as normal. If a staff member receives a positive test, they will have to isolate and get a second test that will need to be completed in a laboratory. This is because lateral flow tests can occasionally give a false-positive result.
Close contacts of positive cases will be offered serial testing. This involves being tested over a period of days to ensure that the individual does not develop Coronavirus. This will be available to both pupils and staff.
Identifying contacts and performing testing in this way should allow schools to offer a higher degree of continuity, reduce absence in both staff and pupils and remove the requirement for close contacts of a COVID-positive individual to isolate.
Schools will be provided with training, PPE and test kits as well as a support line to offer assistance with administering tests. Schools will need to allocate an area for storing test kits between 2 degrees and 30 degrees and a safe testing area. Guidance will be provided on this before the start of the January term.
Tests won’t be compulsory for either staff or pupils. If teachers or students do not want to take part in mass testing, they will still have to adhere to the current government guidelines to isolate in the case of close contact with a COVID-positive individual.
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