Today we announced that students in schools and colleges will be able to access free coronavirus testing from the first full week of January. Here we answer some key questions about this.
What have you announced today?
We have offered secondary schools and colleges access to testing from the first week of January to minimise cases and transmission of the virus following the return of students after Christmas.
Early years, primary children, exam year groups, vulnerable and critical workers’ children will all attend school or college in person from the start of term.
Secondary schools and colleges will offer remote education to all other students for the first week of term.
These steps will help deliver the national priority of keeping as many students and teachers as possible in school and college while fighting the spread of the virus.
The extra round of testing will also help reassure students, parents and teachers about returning to school and college, and minimise disruption during the spring term, by helping identify positive cases and break chains of transmission ahead of the start of face-to-face education.
Is this an extension of the Christmas holiday?
No, this isn’t an extension of the holiday and we haven’t asked that the start of term is delayed.
All students will return to education from the first day of term. Secondary school and college students should learn remotely for one week except those in exam years, vulnerable young people and the children of critical workers. It remains our national priority to keep education open and we are not closing education for any period other than during the set holiday periods.
Why are you doing this?
This first-of-its-kind testing programme will help to identify positive cases and break chains of transmission. This will minimise the number of coronavirus cases and transmission in education settings when more young people return.
This approach is the most effective way to keep the maximum possible number of students in face to face education through the spring term and beyond and will help limit the spread of the virus in the community.
Will it be compulsory for pupils to get tested?
It is not compulsory for students to be tested, we are aware that there are some pupils and students for whom this is not possible or feasible.
Tests will be available from 4 January and we strongly urge all students in schools or colleges to get tested during this period. It will mean they can return to school knowing that the chances of them catching or spreading the virus have been minimised.
There are millions of students to test, and this is a first-of-its-kind programme, so of course it will take some time. We will make sure as many students as possible can be tested.
How will the testing be carried out?
Testing will be provided through sites on school and college grounds. Students will be offered two rapid tests three days apart, with positive results confirmed by a lab-based PCR test.
How will schools and colleges know how to set up the testing sites?
Guidance will shortly be provided to schools and colleges on how to set up and staff the testing sites. Armed forces personnel will support directly through planning with schools and colleges.
But my child has no symptoms – will they still need to be tested?
Ideally a child with no symptoms will still need to be tested before they return to class. Around a third of all cases are asymptomatic – it is really important we find as many of these carriers as possible in order to prevent them inadvertently spreading the illness.
Will students have to prove they have had a test to go back to school or college?
Proof of a negative test result will not be required to return to education. We expect all pupils to be back to face to face learning by 11 January.
What if my child tests positive?
They will have to self-isolate for ten days from the day they took the test, in the normal way in line with Government guidance. After this, they can then return to school or college as normal.
Are schools and colleges going to have to pay for this themselves?
No. All schools and colleges will be provided with the equipment they need to deliver the testing. Reasonable workforce costs of state funded schools, incurred to help setup and administer the testing, will be reimbursed.
Will teachers be conducting these tests?
Teachers will not be expected to administer tests. We have published initial guidance and will shortly be providing schools with detailed guidance on managing the logistics of the testing process. School and college staff will be asked to help with the logistics and administration, but agency staff and volunteers will conduct the testing.
The department will continue to send out additional information and engage with school leaders.
We expect that it will be a combination of school and college leadership teams and support staff that will help with the logistics – not classroom teachers, who will be providing face-to-face and remote education for their students from the start of term in the first week of January.
Reasonable workforce costs incurred to help setup and administer the testing will be reimbursed.
How are you going to deliver this?
We will be providing detailed logistical guidance as soon as possible next week.
We do not underestimate the scale of the challenge, which is why a cross-government operation is being mobilised to support schools and colleges to deliver this. Test and trace, the Department of Health and Social Care and Department for Education will be working with local authorities, multi-academy trusts, schools and colleges to make sure this is delivered. Armed forces personnel will also support directly through planning with schools and colleges.
It will require some time invested by school staff, but they will be supported by this cross-government operation, as well as volunteers and agency staff who will deliver the testing. Reasonable workforce costs incurred to help setup and administer the testing will be reimbursed.
This follows a series of pilots carried out in schools as well as mass testing in universities before students returned home for Christmas. The Government worked with 126 universities in England to offer mass testing for students, covering 75% of the student population in England.