Testing offered to schools and colleges to minimise cases and transmission of the virus with return of students after Christmas

The government has today (17 December) confirmed that all secondary schools and colleges in England will be able to test more of their staff and students in a round of free coronavirus testing from the first week of January.

This will help to deliver the national priority to keep education open for all and help fight the spread of the virus, while keeping schools and colleges safe. Building on the incredible work schools and colleges have done to be Covid-secure, the round of testing will help to reassure students, parents and teachers about returning to school and college.

The round of testing will also help to tackle the one in three who have the virus but do not have symptoms, so could be spreading the disease unknowingly, and minimise disruption during the spring term by helping identify positive cases when pupils return to face-to-face education following the Christmas break.

The offer of tests builds on the extensive protective measures already in place in schools and colleges to make them safe, as well as the government’s recent announcement that every secondary school and college in England will have access to rapid testing from January.

Students in exam year groups, vulnerable children and children of critical workers will all attend school or college in person from the start of term, as will all students in primary, special and alternative provision schools and colleges.

Vocational exams scheduled for the week of 4 January will go ahead as planned.

Secondary schools and colleges will operate a staggered return, offering all non-exam year groups full-time remote education, as close as possible to that which students would get in class, during the first week of term, with face-to-face education for all starting on 11 January.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

This targeted testing round will clamp down on the virus as students return from the Christmas break and help stop the spread of Covid-19 in the wider community.

Building on the fantastic actions that schools and colleges have already taken to be as safe as possible, this additional testing will catch those who have the virus but are not showing symptoms to help schools and colleges stay in control of the virus throughout the spring term.

The new programme of daily testing for close contacts of those with confirmed cases of the virus will also mean we can keep more pupils in school, the best place for their development and wellbeing. Over the rest of the academic year and in the run up to exams, it will remain a national priority to keep education open for all, while keeping schools as safe as possible.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said:

Testing in schools is crucial for us to break the chains of transmission and keep students, staff and their loved ones safe. That’s why we’re supporting schools and colleges in England to offer testing at the start of January.

Rapid testing is a reliable and effective way to identify people without symptoms that we otherwise wouldn’t know about. By doing this we can help schools and colleges open safely after the Christmas break and ensure there is minimal disruption to our children’s education.

Schools and colleges will be able to establish testing to offer students two rapid tests three days apart, with positive results confirmed by a lab-based PCR test.

Guidance will shortly be provided to schools and colleges on how to set up and staff the testing sites. Armed forces personnel will support directly through planning with schools and colleges. Reasonable workforce costs will be reimbursed.

Those students attending face-to-face education in the first week of term will be offered the first testing dates.

Testing will be optional but strongly encouraged, particularly in areas of higher prevalence of the virus. Consent will be required from the student or parent as appropriate.

Whilst a negative test result can provide reassurance, those returning to education following a negative result should still follow all relevant guidance including enhanced hygiene measures and wearing face coverings where appropriate.

Students who receive positive test results will be required to self-isolate in line with existing guidance.

Published 17 December 2020