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How important is an alternative approach to testing in ensuring as many children as possible stay in school?

Abdullah Sabyah, Founder and CEO, Rightangled

Following the announcement of the global pandemic earlier this year, schools around the world closed their gates for the foreseeable future, not knowing if and when they would reopen. By early April, a shocking 1.5 billion young people were told to stay at home – just one of the many precautions introduced to try and protect the population from the virus.  

Although these extreme measures have undoubtedly helped slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) to some extent, certain groups within society have begun to voice their concern that school closures (and denying children access to school) are doing more harm than good, especially as current research suggests that children rarely develop severe symptoms from COVID-19.  

Online vs classroom learning  

According to an open letter signed by over 1,500 members of the UK’s Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) published in June this year, lengthy school closures “risk scarring the life chances of a generation of young people”.  

Although the technology and online resources we are fortunate enough to have at our fingertips have played a huge role in allowing teachers to continue educating their students through other means, many pupils have struggled with not being in their usual classroom environment.  

Home schooling has also come hand in hand with a number of other issues, including parents trying to juggle their jobs as well as childcare, lower-income children who usually depend on free school meals going hungry, and even hints that children have been suffering increased abuse due to school staff no longer being able to spot and report early signs of it.  

Lessons learnt  

Since the start of the pandemic, the UK’s approach to testing has been a learning curve to say the least, with many areas of the country running out of tests more rapidly than expected and individuals having to travel miles just to access one.  

The NHS testing system has been stretched far too thinly up to now, and for this reason should only be utilised by those who are physically showing clear symptoms of COVID-19, rather than by those who are purely having to prove that they are not infected with the virus for personal or circumstantial reasons.  

With this being said, the increasing number of families relying on the NHS testing system to verify that their children are well enough to go to school is enough to confirm that an alternative approach to testing is desperately required.   

Testing in schools  

From 26th August 2020, all schools and further education (FE) providers across the UK were sent an initial supply of ten test kits, and since 16th September, they have been able to order more. Whilst this demonstrates a degree of progress, it is unclear how many more tests are actually available, and it is likely that these will continue to deplete just as quickly as infection rates continue to rise.  

As it stands, children are being denied access to school if they are showing influenza type symptoms or if they have been exposed to another COVID-19 case. However, according to Public Health England (PHE), the family members of children in self-isolation can continue to go to work and siblings from other year groups can continue to go to school, unless that particular child develops symptoms of COVID-19.  

Home-based testing  

If (and when) schools do run out of their allocated number of test kits, an alternative solution such as bulk buying home-based test kits could prove equally as effective – if not more.  

When purchased from a reputable, NHS backed provider, home-based testing allows those children with a negative test result to remain in school, limiting unnecessary levels of self-isolation, all whilst easing the pressure off the NHS. For further reassurance, these home-based test kits could then be rolled out to the entire class or year group after seven days, by which time the vast majority of COVID-19 cases have first reported symptoms.  

Through adopting the approach of mass private testing via increased levels of home-based test kits, we can help ensure more children stay in school and continue to receive the education they so importantly need.  

Abdullah Sabyah, Founder and CEO, Rightangled

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