Essex prepares for return to schools and colleges
With a phased return to the classroom for secondary school and college pupils set to start from Monday 8 March, settings are currently putting arrangements in place for pupils to take part in asymptomatic Covid-19 testing as per the latest Government guidance.
The Government has stated that secondary schools and colleges should offer three rapid Lateral Flow Tests (LFT) to pupils as they return to on-site education and that the return of secondary-age pupils can be flexible to allow for this to take place.
This is aimed at identifying positive cases more quickly and breaking the chain of transmission within the school community.
It is down to each individual secondary schools or colleges to decide how they fulfil this guidance and there are two options for schools and colleges to use.
Schools and colleges have the option of offering all three tests on site and flexibility in terms of how they organise pupil’s phased return from 8 March.
Alternatively, Essex County Council (ECC) has put in place increased community testing capacity so that pupils could take the first of these three LFTs in advance of their return to school or college. If schools decide to use this option, the second and third tests would then need to be taken on the school site three to five days apart.
Community testing would be carried out at one of the existing rapid testing centres across Essex. Additional capacity to support pupil testing only is also being put in place for the next couple of weeks in the form of three temporary rapid testing sites in Clacton, Dunmow and Braintree.
Parents and carers will be sent specific instructions from their child’s school or college about what they need to do and are encouraged to speak to their setting if they have any questions or concerns.
Testing is voluntary and will not be done unless consent has been given. It is also not a determining factor for whether pupils are able to return.
However, it is something that is being strongly encourage so that potential transmission of the virus within the school community is reduced.
If they are taking part in testing, pupils can return to face-to-face education following their first negative test result. Once these three initial tests have been carried out, pupils will be provided with rapid tests to be carried out twice a week at home.
If they test positive, they will need to self-isolate immediately in line with current Covid-19 guidance and not return to school until this is complete.
The results of these home tests must be reported to NHS Test and Trace as per the instructions in the test kit as soon as the test is completed (results will be given in around 30 minutes). The results should also be shared with your child’s school or college, whether positive or negative, to support them with contact tracing.
The DfE is now also recommending that face coverings are worn by secondary-age pupils in classrooms, only where social distancing cannot be maintained and unless a young person is medically exempt from wearing one. Secondary and college pupils are already required to wear a face covering when moving around school buildings in corridors and communal areas, as well as when travelling to and from school on public transport.
Primary school pupils
For primary school-age children, on-site attendance at school on and from 8 March will be mandatory.
The advice from Public Health England is that there is no requirement for primary age pupils to be tested for Covid-19 before returning. This is because there are limited public health benefits attached to testing primary pupils in terms of stopping the spread of Covid-19 and younger children are less likely to catch the virus.
Primary school pupils are also not required to wear a face covering at school, however adults may be asked to wear a face covering when entering the school site.
Dr Mike Gogarty, Essex County Council’s Director of Public Health, said: “We strongly advise parents of secondary-age children to get their children tested. By using our network of rapid testing centres, they can do so before children return to the classroom safe in the knowledge that they free of the virus.”