Mass Testing in Schools

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Mass Testing in Schools: Everything you need to know

In December, the DfE announced that schools around the country would be gearing up to prepare their schools for Introduction to rapid, asymptomatic testing for schools and colleges. From January 2021, teachers and other staff will be able to have routine testing once a week whilst pupils and staff will be able to conduct serial testing in the event of a contact testing positive.

This is a phased programme starting with secondary age settings (KS3+), with plans to extend to primary schools thereafter. Other sources of support are available through the usual channels: your Regional Schools Commissioner, FE Commissioner, Regional DfE / DHSC leads, Director of Public Health team, and Director of Children’s Services team.

 

Lateral Flow Antigen Testing: What is it?

Staff and pupils will be tested using validated Lateral Flow Antigen tests. Lateral flow antigen tests detect the presence or absence of coronavirus by applying a swab or saliva sample to the device’s absorbent pad. These deliver a result in 30 minutes. If it is negative then pupils and teachers will be able to carry on as usual. If it’s positive then they will have to isolate and get a second test that will be processed in a lab.

 

Everything so far

In the recent weeks of the DfE’s announcement, there have been mixed responses across educational and scientific bodies. Some believe mass testing can help reduce outbreaks at schools, while others argue it could make matters worse by giving teachers and pupils false reassurance. With the mass testing initiative announced only weeks ago, the pressure to ensure schools are prepared is felt across the UK. There are also fears of the accuracy of the tests, the Guardian has cited that in an interim evaluation of the kits, researchers at the University of Oxford and Public Health England’s Porton Down lab found the tests picked up 79% of cases when used by skilled lab scientists, but only 58% when used by self-trained members of the public.[1]

 

In an article written by the British Medical Journal, Scientists Mike Gill, former Regional Director at Public Health England and Sylvia Richardson, President of the Royal Statistical Society, echo similar thoughts: “Mass testing could backfire and increase transmission if individuals receiving negative test results are falsely reassured that they cannot have covid infection, and consequently take risks and reduce preventative behaviours”[2].

 

However, in validation studies conducted by Oxford University and Public Health England, they were shown to be as accurate in identifying a case as a PCR test (99.8% specificity). The tests have lower sensitivity, but they are better at picking up cases when a person has higher viral load, hence, the need to test frequently. When used in combination with other measures such as PPE, washing hands regularly, and social distancing, these tests may enable people to live their lives in as normal a way as possible. Quotes from Schools and Colleges are promising, with Gerard Garvey, Newcastle Sixth Form College commenting,The testing process is smooth and has minimal impact on teaching and learning. In addition to this, the daily testing of close contacts has enabled students who would normally have had to self-isolate, to continue to attend and enjoy the benefits of face-to-face teaching.”

 

As testing preparation continues in schools across the country, the initiative is due to be in full swing later this month. As many other schools across the country, the Federation has and is continuing to assess this new initiative in line with the appropriate health and safety measures. Alongside detailed risk assessments and training, our Health and Safety Manager for the Federation, Laura Stoneman, reiterates,” supporting the academies in interpreting the guidance was and remains a key part of our central role. This, of course, takes many different forms. Whether that be, ensuring that we can provide accessible resources, such as PPE, and guidance notes to better assist schools in understanding the many different requirements and changes.”

 

As this is a rapidly evolving situation, we hope to continue reporting on the initiative from on the ground and from our front-liners.

 

Workforce and supporting your local school community

To meet the demand of this huge organisational task, schools and colleges are looking to identify existing and new staff to support testing as workers are trained in accordance with NHS guidance. Harris Federation has been working centrally and in collaboration with academies

With 7 roles outlined in school guidance, the need for organised support is now as urgent as ever to ensure our young people continue to stay safe in schools across the UK. 

For more information about mass testing in schools, click here for the official press release from the Department of Education.

For information and guidance on education and care during COVID-19 from the Department of Education, click here.

 

 

Schools and colleges in England can raise questions specific to the Department for Education, via the DfE coronavirus helpline: 0800 046 8687 or at RapidTesting.SCHOOLS@education.gov.uk

 

[1] “Experts remain divided over merits of mass Covid tests in schools” Ian Sample, 14th January 2021 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/14/experts-remain-divided-mass-covid-tests-schools

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