Gavin Williamson – 2021 Statement on Covid Testing in Secondary Schools and Colleges

The statement made by Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education, in the House of Commons on 19 January 2021.

On 15 December 2020 we announced that we would be deploying the latest rapid-result coronavirus tests using lateral flow devices to secondary schools and colleges from 4 January to enable weekly screening of staff and daily contact testing of both staff and students who are a close contact of a positive case. This will help us to find those who have the virus but are not displaying symptoms and isolate them quickly.

The asymptomatic testing programme does not replace current testing policy for those with symptoms. Anyone with symptoms, whether they are involved in the rapid asymptomatic testing programme or not, will still be expected to obtain a PCR test and follow NHS Test and Trace guidance, self-isolating until they have received their results.

This testing programme, alongside other protective measures such as social distancing and handwashing, can support school leaders to maintain the continuity of education through the pandemic.

We can confirm that, as planned, the rapid asymptomatic testing programme in schools and colleges is being expanded to twice-weekly testing of primary school staff. Primary schools, including attached early years settings, should expect to receive initial deliveries of home testing kits to offer regular testing to all staff from the week commencing 18 January. Deliveries to maintained nurseries will be slightly later—dates to be confirmed.

Primary school staff will be asked to take tests at home rather than take them on-site following the recent approval of home test kits from the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency).

Primary school staff will be supplied with lateral flow device (LFD) test kits, which enable self-swabbing. They will be advised to test in the morning before coming into school twice a week (3-4 days apart). The LFDs supplied do not require laboratory processing and can provide a quick result in up to 30 minutes. Staff will then upload the outcome of their test (positive, negative or void) on the gov.uk website.

Taking part in the testing is not mandatory for staff and they will not be expected to provide proof of having taken a test, to enter the school. However, testing is strongly encouraged, and we expect all primary schools to offer tests to staff.

Those who test positive will need to self-isolate in line with the stay-at-home guidance.

As with all policy, this will be kept under review in light of scientific evidence, and the Government will provide further advice if necessary.