Testing for Covid-19 in schools in place of isolation for case contacts

More than 375,000 pupils in England are currently are out of school for Covid-related reasons, an increase of more than 130,000 in a week. Not being at school is very disruptive for children’s education and their social development, and also for their families. The government is therefore considering other options for managing children in whom there has been a Covid-19 case in their school bubble. This could include daily testing  rather than exclusion from school. If the policy for children does change, it is likely to start in the new school term in September.

Will there be regular testing in schools even without any positive cases?

The current policy of testing secondary school children twice each week is likely to continue in the new school year in September. This will be the case even in schools where there are no cases.

What will happen someone in my child’s class tests positive?

Currently, everyone in the class and the wider school bubble is excluded from school and has to isolate at home. The proposal is that instead of isolating at home, children in the class would be tested daily in school and only sent home if they had a positive test.

What will happen if my child tests positive?

If your child tests positive, they will have to isolate at home for legal isolation period, which is currently 10 days. Other household members would also have to isolate, unless the government changes the rules and allows testing, rather than isolation for them.

Will the tests be voluntary? What if I don’t want my child to be tested?

Testing of children is voluntary in the UK and only carried out with the consent of parents.

Will there be any difference between primary and secondary schools?

The government has not confirmed this but it is likely that the policy on daily testing of contacts of cases would be the same in primary and secondary schools in England.

What type of test will be used and how accurate is it?

Lateral flow tests will be used as these can give a result within 30 minutes, whereas PCR tests have to be sent to a laboratory and it is typically  1-2 days before the test result is available. The lateral flow tests can pick up 50%-80% of cases of Covid-19, depending on how well the test is carried out. They are more likely to detect the children who are most infectious.

Will schoolchildren be asked to take the vaccine?

There are currently no plans to offer children in the UK the Covid-19 vaccine. If this does happen, it is likely to be for older children, those aged 12 years and over, and only if parents give their consent for vaccination.

What else can be done to keep schools safe

It’s essential that staff working in schools are fully vaccinated. Good ventilation and air filtration systems should also be a priority, as is the case in some other countries, as they have been shown to substantially reduce the risk of infection in schools.