From Monday schools have been told that they will no longer be responsible for identifying Covid contacts with this responsibility being passed to the NHS Test and Trace.
But questions have been mounting about how this will actually work in practice and what will be expected of schools.
The Department for Education has emailed schools this evening with guidance.
The biggest change is likely to be that schools have been told to only expect “a very small number of close contacts” to be identified on average for each case.
Here are the key points.
Schools will not be routinely contacted by NHS Test and Trace
The government says that schools will not be routinely contacted by NHS Test and Trace. Individual positive cases and/or their parents or legal guardians would instead be contacted and their close contacts would be traced and asked to follow relevant public health advice.
The guidance says: “Contacts in an educational setting will be traced if the positive case specifically identified an individual as having close, prolonged contact which will normally have occurred in a social setting e.g. sleepovers.”
It also says that schools will not routinely be contacted to provide details of close contacts. However it adds education and childcare settings may be contacted, if deemed necessary, by local health protection teams in response to a local outbreak of Covid.
How will a child or young person know what a ‘close contact’ is?
The government says that the NHS Test & Trace will contact those who test positive – or their parent or legal guardian – to identify close contacts. They will ask a series of specific questions to help the individual understand what is meant by a close contact, making it easier for them to be identified.
It also says that being in a setting with an individual who has tested positive for Covid-19 “will not necessarily mean a person is identified as a close contact”.
It adds: "We expect there to be a very small number of close contacts on average for each case."
How will a school know if a student, pupil or member of staff has tested positive?
The guidance says that children, pupils, students and staff members who record a positive Covid test – either through a lateral flow device or PCR test should let their school know.
Staff, pupils or students (or the parent) are required to report the test result though the NHS Online reporting system for negative, void and positive test results. They should also report positive, negative and void results to the school.
There is a draft template letter available for schools to send to students, pupils and parents which sets this out.
What if schools know they have several positive Covid cases in a 14-day period but haven’t been contacted by NHS Test and Trace?
If schools are concerned about case rates they can contact the DfE’s dedicated advice service on 0800 046 8687 who will escalate the issue to a local health protection team.
Could school staff still be contacted in the summer holidays?
The guidance is somewhat unclear.
It says that once the country reaches Step 4 – which is happening on Monday – then NHS Test and Trace will take over and schools will not be routinely involved.
However it repeats the warning that education and childcare settings may be contacted, if deemed necessary, by local health protection teams in response to a local outbreak.
What happens from 19 July if a student tests positive with an LFD test?
If a student has a positive result from a lateral flow device (LFD) test after 19 July they and other members of the household should self-isolate.
The guidance adds that they, or their parent, should notify the school that they will not be attending and they should also order an immediate confirmatory PCR test.
If the confirmatory test is taken within two days and the result is negative, they and other members of their household can stop self-isolating (unless they have developed symptoms or been instructed to self-isolate by Test and Trace for other reasons).
The student should then inform the school and return to face to face learning.
If the confirmatory PCR test is positive (or is taken more than two days after the LFD), they and other members of their household must self-isolate until 10 days after the date of the LFD test - or the date their symptoms began, if they were symptomatic).
They should inform the setting if they have had a positive PCR test result and will not be attending the setting for the period of their isolation.
The government guidance says they should learn remotely during this period if they are well enough to do so.
Should schools inform parents that a child in a class has tested positive or may be a close contact?
The guidance leaves this to schools discretion. It says schools should consider whether individuals in their setting need to be informed of a positive case. It adds that they should take account factors such as "known vulnerability".
The guidance adds that when informing individuals of a positive case, the setting should not disclose any information that could result in an individual being identified.
It adds that schools "may make their own decisions on how they wish to communicate the information".
When should pupils be asked to stay home for Covid related reasons?
The guidance says that individuals should only be asked to stay home for Covid-related reasons if:
• They or someone in their household is symptomatic
• They or someone in their household has tested positive with a PCR or LFD test
• They have been notified by NHS Test and Trace that they are a close contact – until August 16 when rules change and pupils no longer need to isolate.
What does a close contact of a Covid case have to do?
Anyone identified by NHS Test and Trace must self-isolate for 10 days from the date of last contact with the positive case and not attend their school.
They should also take a PCR test. If the PCR test is negative, they must continue to self-isolate for their full self-isolation period as they could still become infectious. If the result is positive the individual must self-isolate for 10 days from the date of the test.
The DfE has said that children who are aged under 5 years old who are identified as close contacts would only be advised to take a PCR test if the positive case is within their own household.
When do rules on self isolation change?
From 16 August, in line with fully vaccinated adults, under-18s identified as close contacts will not need to self-isolate and instead will be advised to take a PCR test.
Heads have raised concern about what happens if they choose not to take this test and still come into school.
What if schools are asked to provide contact details for close contacts to parents or NHS Test and Trace?
The government has said schools must not provide any personal information if asked to by parents and/or close contacts as that would be a breach of GDPR or data protection legislation.
However if they are contacted by NHS Test and Trace as it is deemed necessary by local health protection teams in response to a local outbreak then schools may “share proportionate and relevant information as requested by NHS Track and Trace without consent.
The guidance says sharing of information in these exceptional circumstances does not require consent.