Schools told to test teachers for Covid twice a week

DfE calls for schools to step up screening of staff and confirms it is pausing rapid tests for close contacts of cases

John Roberts

Coronavirus: Gavin Williamson has called on schools to increase testing of staff to twice a week

Education secretary Gavin Williamson has called on schools and colleges to increase regular Covid-19 testing of staff to twice a week to help break chains of transmission.

He has also confirmed that the Department for Education has accepted a recommendation from Public Health England and NHS Test and Trace that the use of lateral flow tests on people who have been in contact with a confirmed case of the virus in schools should be paused.

The announcement comes after concerns were raised by school leaders, scientists and public health officials that the DfE's plan to use rapid tests as an alternative to self-isolating could result in more cases of the virus in schools. There are fears that these lateral flow tests can produce false-negative results.

Coronavirus: Daily contact testing programme carries a risk, DfE admits

School safety: School Covid testing of people who had contact with the virus is paused

Minister: DfE seeking new health advice on its testing plan

However, in an email to schools today Mr Williamson said that the department still wants them to use the tests provided to carry out regular checks on staff.

Coronavirus: Fears over the reliability of rapid Covid tests

The original plan was for secondary schools and colleges to test staff weekly. Mr Williamson has now said this should be done twice a week.

In an email sent to schools this morning, seen by Tes, Mr Williamson said: "School and college leaders are playing a key role in setting up Covid-19 testing.

"Testing remains a vital part of our plan to supress this virus, and the widespread rollout of regular testing using rapid lateral flow tests is already proving beneficial in finding people with coronavirus before they develop symptoms.

"We have consistently been guided by experts, and, as part of our testing approach, we rolled out daily contact testing in schools on the advice of NHS Test and Trace and Public Health England (PHE). 

"Both NHS Test and Trace and PHE have now reviewed that advice, and concluded that, in light of the higher prevalence and rates of transmission of the new variant, further evaluation work is required to understand the impact of daily contact testing instead of self-isolation for those who have been in contact with a case, to make sure it is achieving its aim of breaking chains of transmission and reducing cases of the virus in the community.

"In light of that assessment, we are pausing daily contact testing in all but a small number of secondary schools and colleges, where it will continue with detailed evaluation to inform any future resumption and to make sure nobody in the remaining settings is put at any risk.

"Regular testing of staff should continue and will increase to twice weekly as further reassurance and to break chains of transmission during this period."  

On Monday Tes reported that the Department for Education had asked for "rapid" new public health advice about its controversial Covid school testing programme for people who have been in contact with the virus.

Children's minister Vicky Ford told MPs that the department had asked for updated advice from both NHS Test and Trace and Public Health England about daily contact Covid testing in schools.


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John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

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