What we're doing
We're offering a round of testing to all secondary schools and colleges in England to test students from the first week of term. Initially testing will be provided for all secondary pupils and staff as they return from the holidays. After the initial mass testing, all school and college staff will be able to have routine testing once a week; pupils and staff will be able to do ‘serial testing’ if one of their contacts within school tests positive. If close contacts agree to be tested each day for 7 days, and they test negative each time, they will be allowed to remain in school or college that day.
This is a phased approach, starting with secondary age settings (staff, pupils and students in schools and colleges in Year 7 and older), with plans to extend to primary schools. Students in exam year groups, vulnerable children and children of key workers will all attend school or college in person from the start of term and these groups should get the first testing slots. All pupils in primary, special and alternative provision will also return in person from the start of term. Secondary schools and colleges will operate a staggered return, offering all non-exam year groups full-time remote education, as close as possible to that which pupils would get in class, during the first week of term.
Why we're doing it
Testing is important because staff, students and pupils without symptoms could still carry the virus and may spread it to many others. As many as one in three people with the virus have no symptoms. And since schools and colleges are a key part of our communities, we want to break the chains of transmission and help reduce the risk as far as possible. State-funded secondaries had an average of 24 pupils isolating per confirmed coronavirus case on 10 December – which is what we’re aiming to drastically cut down through daily testing of close contacts. This will help to deliver on our national priority of keeping education as safe as possible and open for all.
How we're helping schools prepare
We recognise that we continue to ask a lot of schools and colleges in delivering rapid testing, but all teachers, staff, parents and pupils should be assured that we will be supporting them over the coming weeks.
We are allocating £78 million to support all secondary schools and colleges with testing costs. Funding will be provided to secondary schools and colleges based on their size. For example, a mainstream secondary in inner London, with 1000 pupils and staff will receive around £20k. A mainstream secondary outside London, with 2000 pupils and staff will receive around £28k.
We've published logistical guidance that walks secondary schools and colleges through key information they need for running testing and provides advice on setting up a safe testing site, running the testing site, staffing and resource requirements as well as processing and recording test results.
We know that every setting is different and so the guidance is flexible so that testing sites it can be adapted to accommodate other things happening in each individual school or college space.
The first deliveries of up to 1000 starter test kits, with tests and PPE, will arrive at every secondary school and college on 4 January so that they are ready to go as soon as possible, with further replenishment deliveries throughout the week.
Teachers will not be expected to administer tests. Our expectation is school and colleges will make their own decisions on how to deliver this through a mix of existing staff, agency staff and volunteers.