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updated on 22 January 2021
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School types: All · School phases: All

The DfE has told schools to pause daily coronavirus testing of close contacts of confirmed cases, but that staff should still be tested regularly, ideally twice a week. Get answers to FAQs alongside a summary of what we know so far.

22 January 2021: we've updated this article to clarify that: 
  • If primary schools don't receive home testing kits for their staff by 27 January, they should call the DfE coronavirus helpline on 0800 046 8687
  • Deliveries for maintained nursery schools are expected to begin in the week beginning 1 February  

We've also restructured this article a little to help you get to the information you need as quickly as possible. 

What's the latest? 

Testing staff in primary schools, school-based nurseries and maintained nursery schools  

The DfE has said that:  

  • If primary schools don't receive their home testing kits for staff by 27 January, they should call the DfE coronavirus helpdesk on 0800 046 8687
  • Deliveries for maintained nursery schools are expected to begin on the week beginning 1 February  
  • You're strongly encouraged to attend DfE webinars on testing (you should've received details of dates and times in an email from the DfE). If you're unable to attend the webinars, they'll be available afterwards on the DfE's YouTube page
  • Private early years providers are eligible for regular asymptomatic coronavirus testing through local community testing programmes

Testing pupils and staff in secondary schools

The DfE, upon recommendation from Public Health England, has said that: 

  • Staff and pupils who are identified as close contacts of confirmed cases of coronavirus should not do rapid daily 'serial' testing as an alternative to self-isolation
  • If your school has found rapid daily testing useful and would like to participate in the government's further evaluation of it, contact the NHS Test and Trace evaluation team at dct-pilotpmo@dhsc.gov.uk
  • You should continue to test your staff regularly, ideally twice a week 

The DfE has not confirmed whether all eligible schools are expected to take up the programme.

Primary schools: twice-weekly home testing for staff

Please note: this is a summary of the testing programme - to implement it in your school you'll also need to read the resources on the primary schools' document sharing platform

Staff in primary schools, including school-based nurseries and maintained nursery schools, will be offered lateral flow device coronavirus tests (read more about these below) to self-administer at home twice a week. 

Staff are strongly encouraged to participate in testing, though it's not mandatory.  

Staff must report their result to NHS Test and Trace, either by phone or online (there'll be instructions in the testing kit for them to do this). They should also share their result with you to help you with contact tracing. 

If the test is:

  • Positive, they need to self-isolate and take a 'standard' PCR test to confirm their result
  • Negative, they can continue to attend school or nursery in person. They don't need to show you proof of this 

Refer to our flowchart to help you and your staff visualise the process for staff testing positive, or testing negative but showing coronavirus symptoms.

Update your risk assessment

You may need to update your coronavirus risk assessment to reflect your school's procedure for staff home-testing. Use our template risk assessment to help you (we're currently updating it and hope to publish it by 26 January).

What's the difference between a lateral flow test and a 'standard' PCR test?

Lateral flow tests produce results in 30 minutes and don't need to be processed in a lab. They're different from 'standard' polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which need to be sent to a lab to get results within a few days.

Do we need to get consent from staff?

We've asked the DfE to clarify whether primary schools need to get consent from staff for home-testing.

The document sharing platform doesn't include a template consent form, but the template letter to staff mentions that staff need to read a privacy notice (there's a template notice you can use) if they choose to participate. 
We'll update this article as soon as we have more information - click 'save for later' in the top-right hand corner to be notified when we do.  

Secondary schools: overview of the 2 streams of testing

These streams are for all schools with secondary-aged pupils, including special schools and alternative providers.

Note that the below is a summary of the testing programme - to implement it in your school you'll need to also read the resources on the secondary schools' document sharing platform

Stream 1: back-to-school testing for all pupils and staff

All pupils and staff at your school will be offered 2 lateral flow coronavirus tests as they return to school for the spring term. Participation is optional, and pupils and staff may return to school even if they haven't taken a test. 

If the lateral flow test is:

  • Positive, the pupil/staff member will need to self-isolate immediately and confirm the result with a standard PCR coronavirus test
  • Negative, ask them to take another lateral flow test between 3 and 5 days later. If the second test is positive, they should self-isolate immediately and take a standard PCR test to confirm the result

Stream 2: regular testing for staff 

All staff will be offered regular coronavirus testing, ideally twice a week. Participation is optional.

This includes supply teachers, peripatetic teachers, temporary staff and initial teacher training (ITT) trainees - see pages 17 and 36 of the government's guidance on partial school closure.

 FAQs for secondary schools: 

What are lateral flow tests and how will they be administered?

Lateral flow tests produce results in 30 minutes and don't need to be processed in a lab. They're different from 'standard' polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which need to be sent to a lab to get results within a few days.

Most pupils will administer the lateral flow test to themselves, supervised by an adult. If it wouldn't be appropriate for a pupil to administer the test themselves, an adult should administer it to them.

How will we get the materials we need for testing?

The DfE will provide these, including lateral flow test kits and personal protective equipment (PPE). The number of tests you get will depend on the number of pupils you have on roll. See page 10 of the how-to guide for more details of what you'll receive.

How many staff/volunteers will we need for testing and how do we pay for it?

A workforce planning tool is available on the schools document sharing platform. This will help you determine:

  • The number of testing bays you'll need
  • The number of staff required

Page 20 of the how-to guide sets out the 7 types of roles you'll need to fill.

Do pupils and staff have to get tested?

No. Participation in testing is voluntary. You'll need to get consent from staff and pupils (or their parents/guardians if you're testing pupils under 16) to test them. 

How should we get consent?

You need to offer the person giving consent a privacy notice, so they understand what’s happening with their data. The DfE has produced a template privacy notice, consent form and letter you can use here

You can also find more information on gaining consent on page 28 of the how-to guide.

What secondary schools need to do to implement the programme

Your school will need to:

  • Provide staff and/or volunteers to support the work
  • Make sure your staff and/or volunteers attend training - the DfE will provide a mandatory online training package
  • Set up an appropriate testing area - see page 11 of the DfE's how-to guide
  • Communicate with parents, pupils and staff about testing - use the templates in the document sharing platform to help you
  • Seek consent from parents (if you're testing pupils under 16), pupils and staff members if you test them, and provide data protection information - use the DfE's template consent form for this
  • Update its risk assessment to reflect its procedures for testing - use our template risk assessment to help you (we're currently updating it and hope to publish it by 26 January). Refer to our flowchart to help you and your staff visualise the process for staff testing positive, or testing negative but showing coronavirus symptoms

If your school uses Arbor MIS, you'll soon be able to do bulk tracking of coronavirus tests - Arbor is working on a new feature that'll allow you to record who's taken a test and what the result was. You'll also be able to filter for pupils who've had consent for testing. 

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