Covid testing in schools


Covid testing in schools will be an issue which many school staff will have to be knowledgable in. The Department for Education (DfE) have announced that lateral flow tests will be deployed to all secondary schools and colleges to help detect asymptomatic cases and break chains of transmission from January.

From January all staff in secondary schools and colleges will be eligible for weekly rapid tests as part of an initial rollout. All secondary schools and colleges, including special schools and alternative provision settings, will be offered test kits to facilitate weekly testing of the secondary school and college workforce.

This will be coupled with serial testing of close contacts for both staff and pupils in secondary schools and colleges. This will help preserve face-to-face education by preventing close contacts from needing to self-isolate at home.

In this article, we outline information from the DfE and link to the FAQ page it has published. We will update this article when further information is available. Some information has already been leaked but we will wait until the official guidance is published.

Covid testing in schools: FAQS

Who will be doing the testing?

The Government is supporting all schools and colleges to set up appropriate spaces on site that can be used for testing. Schools and colleges are supplied with test kits and PPE and training will be provided. The DfE will provide an advice line and guidance to support schools.

What about primary schools and early years settings?

The government are prioritising secondary schools and colleges because they face greater disruption and because they want to ensure support for pupils and students in crucial exam years. The next step will be to roll out testing in primary schools. It is looking at how mass testing can best support the early years sector and will work with local authorities and the sector to inform plans for mass testing in early years settings.

How will this actually help ensure face to face education?

This will help identify asymptomatic cases – which make up a third of all cases – limiting the spread of the virus.

Staff and pupils who are close contacts of cases will be eligible for daily testing, eliminating the need for immediate self-isolation. Only if a daily test returns a positive result will the staff member need to isolate. This means fewer staff members will need to isolate, ensuring they can continue teaching, and fewer pupils/students will need to isolate, enabling them to attend.

Are the tests compulsory?

The tests aren’t compulsory. However, staff and students who experience COVID-19 symptoms must continue to follow government guidance as normal, including immediate self-isolation and should book a test through or by calling 119.

What will happen if a pupil’s test result is positive or if a teacher tests positive?

They will need to self-isolate and follow the guidance from NHS Test and Trace. This means:

  • They will need to self-isolate for 10 days from the date of the test
  • You can stop self-isolating on day 11 if they haven’t had a high temperature for 48 hours and are well
  • People they live with must self-isolate for 10 days from when they start self-isolating

What type of test will be used?

Lateral flow tests will be used in the first instance. 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.

Does that mean the lateral flow tests aren’t conclusive?

There is a low chance of false positive tests – that is why the secondary test is necessary. There is also a low chance that lateral flow tests don’t pick up positive cases because they aren’t as sensitive as lab-based tests. That is why there will be serial tests for close contacts of positive cases – they will be tested repeatedly over a number of days to ensure they are not positive.

Will the tests happen in schools?

Yes. Schools and colleges will need to arrange suitable spaces for the tests, storage for testing kits – they need to be kept between 2c and 30c – and for daily cleaning of the area. Further guidance will be provided.

Covid testing in schools: helpline opening hours 

After 24 December, the Department for Education coronavirus (COVID-19) helpline will close for the bank holidays, and have shortened opening hours on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

Phone: 0800 046 8687

Opening hours:

  • 24 December – 8am to 4pm
  • 25 to 28 December – Closed
  • 29 to 30 December – 8am to 6pm
  • 31 December – 9am to 4pm
  • 1 January – Closed
  • 2 to 3 January – 10am to 6pm

Covid testing in schools: further support and advice

If you are an Edapt subscriber and you are concerned about taking or administering tests in the New Year you contact us for support and advice.

Was this article helpful?

The information contained within this article is not a complete or final statement of the law.
While Edapt has sought to ensure that the information is accurate and up-to-date, it is not responsible and will not be held liable for any inaccuracies and their consequences, including any loss arising from relying on this information. This article may contain information sourced from public sector bodies and licensed under the Open Government Licence. If you are an Edapt subscriber with an employment-related issue, please contact us and we will be able to refer you to one of our caseworkers.