Covid tests not compulsory in Northumberland schools

Pupils in Northumberland will not be sent home if they do not complete the recommended two coronavirus tests before the start of term, bosses have said.

Thursday, 26th August 2021, 5:32 pm
Back-to-school Covid testing is recommended but not compulsory in Northumberland. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Education chiefs in the county are gearing up for a major effort to ensure as ‘normal’ a return to classes as possible next month.

Government guidance is urging all youngsters scheduled to return to secondary schools to produce double negatives on a pair of lateral flow tests in the days running up to the resumption of lessons.

And while authorities have admitted the advice remains voluntary, they have urged families to do their part to reduce the risk of outbreaks.

“The national guidance is that all pupils are offered two assisted lateral flow tests before returning to school,” said David Street, deputy director of Education at Northumberland County Council.

“The taking of the test is voluntary but if, for some reason, people didn’t take the test, when their year group returned to school they would be eligible to return.

“It’s not a problem, everybody takes the tests, but, if somebody didn’t, there will never be a position where someone is not allowed to attend school because they’ve not taken the two precautionary tests.”

In line with guidance issued by the Department for Education (DfE), most schools in the county are expected to begin offering ‘on-site lateral flow device tests’ from Friday, September 3.

Pupils are also expected to take a second follow-up test on-site a few days later, but before they return to lessons.

Only those who return a positive result or who develop coronavirus symptoms will be told to stay away from classrooms.

While not compulsory, for Mr Street, a former teacher, following the guidance is essential to ensuring schools can remain open safely.

He said: “It’s important that parents engage with the process and that we get everyone tested twice. That’s the task and that’s what we’re going to do.

“The benefit of completing the tests is to break the chains of transmission and give us the maximum opportunity to keep Covid out of schools through September.”

Following the double on-site lateral flow tests before the start of term, staff and pupils will all be requested to test themselves twice a week at home until the end of the month, when ministers expect to issue revised guidance.

Aside from Covid testing, youngsters have been told to expect school to be ‘much closer to normal than we’ve had in the past year’ – albeit with some measures still in place.

The ‘Hands, Face, Space’ guidance is expected to remain, with facemasks in ‘confined’ areas and enhanced cleaning regimes.

Primary schools are likely to see even fewer restrictions, thanks to the opportunity for most pupils to spend the majority of their day in single classes, with minimal mixing, although teachers have been told to be ‘vigilant for any symptoms’.

Street added: “Schools have always been and will continue to be a reflection of their local community – what’s happening in the schools will be a reflection of what’s happening across all of Northumberland communities.

“Schools have responsibility for health and safety, they have a responsibility to ensure that if there was an outbreak of [something other than coronavirus that they] take steps and that will be the same going forward.”

Local Democracy Reporting Service