25 January 2021

Lateral flow testing in school - update 25th January

The lateral flow testing of students and staff as an alternative to self-isolation for individuals who have been in close contact with someone who has coronavirus has been paused following a change in directive from the Department for Education last week (week beginning 18th January). The medical regulator had raised concerns about their approval/use in schools.  This is because these tests don’t detect all those with the infection, so we could potentially have ended up with more infectious people in school than under the self-isolation system where close contacts are sent home. 

We appreciate that the government’s insistence on first trying to use them for testing close contacts and then having to do yet another policy reversal will have thoroughly confused parents and students.
 
We support the principle of using lateral flow tests for general mass testing because this process should pick up at least a proportion of asymptomatic cases and improve safety. We have been testing staff since Monday 18th January; so far no asymptomatic cases have been detected. As you can imagine, this has been a massive logistical exercise involving lots of staff who have had to be trained and who are now juggling testing with their usual workload.
 
In secondary schools, staff are not allowed to test themselves at home on a regular basis, as primary school staff are now being asked to do. 
 
When schools fully reopen, mass testing may be an important part of keeping them open and minimising disruption. We will be in touch with parents then about any plans we have to extend lateral flow testing from staff to students.