Further education learners will have four rapid coronavirus tests in the first two weeks of returning to face-to-face education, the government has said. Students will complete three lateral flow tests at their institution, and one test at home.
After that, students will be required to do two tests a week from home, with a small number of tests kept on site for those who are unable to do so. FE staff will be required to do two tests a week from home.
Testing will be available on demand for independent training providers and adult education providers, Tes understands.
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Today, prime minister Boris Johnson has confirmed that school and college learners can return to face-to-face education in larger numbers from 8 March.
Colleges reopening: Covid tests 'voluntary but encouraged'
According to the Department for Education, 1.7 million rapid tests have so far been carried out in secondary schools and colleges. The lateral flow tests give a result after 30 minutes.
In guidance published by the DfE this afternoon, colleges have been told to offer students three tests at an on-site testing station, three to five days apart, upon their return from 8 March.
The guidance says: "Testing should start when students return but it can be phased to manage the number of students passing through the test site at any one time.
"Colleges have the flexibility to consider how best to deliver testing on a phased basis, depending on circumstances and local arrangements but suggest vulnerable students are prioritised. Where a test is taken, students may return to face-to-face education following their first negative test result.
"Testing is voluntary but encouraged. If consent is provided, students will be asked to self-swab at the on-site ATS [asymptomatic testing site] and after 30 minutes they should be informed of their results."
Anyone who tests positive should self-isolate, and arrange a lab-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to confirm the result if the test was done at home. Those with a negative lateral flow test result can continue to attend college or their FE provider and use protective measures.
The guidance states that both students and staff will be supplied with lateral flow test kits to self-swab and test themselves twice a week at home.
From the end of March, this will also apply to independent training providers and adult and community learning providers.
The guidance says: "Staff and students must report their result to NHS Test and Trace as soon as the test is completed either online or by telephone as per the instructions in the home test kit. Staff and students should also share their result, either positive or negative, with their college or FE provider to help with contact tracing."
UCU: Lateral flow tests 'completely unsuitable'
This afternoon, UCU general secretary Jo Grady warned against the use of lateral flow tests.
"Lateral flow tests are completely unsuitable for testing on campuses," she said. "They are unreliable, and incorrect negative results may give people a false sense of security, increasing the risk of outbreaks. The government must not use them to reopen colleges and universities."
The government has also confirmed that staff and students in secondary schools and colleges are advised to wear face coverings in all areas, including classrooms, where social distancing cannot be maintained, as a temporary extra measure.