Mass Testing of School Children (COVID-19)

I am glad that mass testing for teachers and staff is well-established in schools and that secondary school and college pupils continue to be offered twice-weekly testing during term time. However, I appreciate your concerns about consent for this mass testing.

Let me reassure you that the asymptomatic testing of secondary school and college pupils is not mandatory, although it is strongly encouraged. Parents of secondary school pupils were expected to give permission to their child’s school in order for testing to take place. Equally, while everyone can access two rapid tests per person per week, it is not compulsory for them to take these asymptomatic tests.

I believe that consent for administering mass testing is vital, and I am assured that Ministers share this belief. At the same time, I am aware that about a third of individuals with coronavirus show no symptoms, and so I support regular asymptomatic testing of children as an important way to reduce transmission.

Whilst secondary school and college pupils can now complete twice-weekly rapid testing at home, schools and colleges are encouraged to retain small Asymptomatic Testing Sites (ATS), which will have been set up to conduct initial on-site testing. This enables schools to offer testing to pupils who are unable or unwilling to test themselves at home, given that full consent is provided. As of 16th August, children and young people only need to isolate if they have tested positive for Covid-19. In addition, fully vaccinated staff who have come into close contact with someone who has tested positive will be able to remain in the classroom.

All positive results from rapid tests, whether conducted at home or at a school or college, need to be confirmed with a PCR test within two days of the positive lateral flow test. Provided that the PCR test is taken within these two days, where a negative PCR test result is received, it will override the lateral flow test result, and pupils and staff can return to educational settings.  As I understand it, the Department for Education works closely with UK Health Security Agency and the Department for Health and Social Care, as well as stakeholders across the sector, to ensure that safety policies are based on the latest scientific and medical advice, and to develop comprehensive guidance based on the PHE support system of controls.