Everyone’s relieved that we are seeing a steady decline of reported cases of Covid-19 since the peak on 08 January at 68,053 new cases in a day. With the pressure now reducing on the NHS it is making the return to school look progressively more likely from 08 March onwards. Whilst we don’t know yet what the return to school will look like, it does mean that it looks like it is time to dust off those lateral flow test kits.
Back on 15 December 2020 the DfE announced that teachers and pupils would have access to rapid testing from the start of the Spring Term. All secondary schools and colleges, including special schools and alternative provision settings, were offered test kits to facilitate weekly testing of the secondary school and college workforce. Pupils would be tested twice on returning to school.
In addition, as an alternative to self isolating by pupils and staff deemed close contacts of someone who had tested positive, the test could be taken daily for staff and pupils for seven days, allowing them to continue to attend school if their tests continued to be negative. Initially rolled out to secondary schools the intention was to roll out to primary schools for testing of staff later in January.
Schools and colleges put in a huge amount of work in preparing test areas in line with the government guidance, training staff to test and supervise testing, putting in place systems for recording the tests in a GDPR compliant manner and informing parents and seeking their consent to testing. Just as the whole operation was about to launch into full swing with the pupils returning to school, along came the latest lockdown announcement on 04 January.
Entering the lockdown meant that most children returned to remote learning with only vulnerable children and children of critical workers being allowed back to school. The testing, whilst available to those attending school, wasn’t quite the ‘mass’ testing planned.
Even though most children haven’t been at school the testing of those that did attend went ahead and staff that have been attending have been tested twice a week. In a month’s time we shall see if ‘mass’ testing will get underway.
Schools will already have the systems and procedures in place for carrying out the testing in line with the NHS Test and Trace guidance in the schools & colleges handbook. We’ll have to wait and see if there are any changes to the guidance come 22 February when the government announce the roadmap to gently come out of lockdown; but one thing to remember is that the advice for close contacts daily testing was withdrawn in a position statement issued 20 January by Public Health England. The current position is that close contacts self isolate.
From the insurance perspective, insurers accept that schools need to follow the government’s request to facilitate mass testing. So long as schools follow the guidance your liability insurance should respond to any allegations of negligence.