Petition Do not start mass testing in schools or require asymptomatic students to isolate
The Government should not roll out mass testing in places of education and end mandatory isolation if children do not have symptoms.
Education is a key social and cultural right and plays an important role in reducing poverty and child labour. Furthermore, education promotes democracy, peace, tolerance, development and economic growth.
This response was given on 14 January 2021
The rapid testing programme is supporting those staff and pupils currently in secondary schools and colleges and will help support the full reopening of these settings as soon as is possible.
Read the response in full
We agree that all children have a right to high quality education. Since the petitioner’s request, the government announced a national lockdown and limit school attendance to vulnerable children and children of critical workers. The rapid testing programme is supporting those staff and pupils currently in secondary schools and colleges and will help support the full reopening of these settings as soon as is possible.
We understand how much the pandemic has disrupted young people’s education to date. We understand how important it is for children to attend school in person, both for their cognitive development and well-being. On 4 January, the government announced a national lockdown and a limit on school attendance to vulnerable children and children of critical workers only. The rapid testing programme is designed to keep this disruption to a minimum and keep as many students as possible in school.
We understand that the petitioner wants children to stay in school, even if they have the virus asymptomatically. For public health reasons, children who have the virus will need to isolate. The rapid testing programme is vital to breaking the chain of transmission and keeping students and staff safe in school.
One in three people who have the virus have it without symptoms so could be spreading the virus unknowingly. Without mass testing, secondary school aged students who have come into close contact with a positive case would need to self-isolate for 10 days and miss out on face-to-face education. Previously, entire year group ‘bubbles’ have been sent home from school.
The introduction of rapid testing eliminates the need for students without the virus to isolate unnecessarily. If a student has taken a lateral flow test on their return to school/college and the results is negative, they can continue attending school. If they have come into close contact with a positive case, they will be tested every day for 7 consecutive days. By testing every day we increase chance of finding positive cases before they infect others.
Public Health England supports the daily testing of close contacts in secondary schools and colleges instead of requiring self-isolation for 10 days. Current evidence suggests daily testing is likely to reduce transmission of the virus at a similar rate to self-isolation. This is a proportionate approach to managing the risk from contact with positive coronavirus cases, while keeping as many students as possible in face-to-face education and transition to a new normal.
Testing has been piloted in a number of schools and colleges over the autumn term and demonstrated that overall attendance improved as a result of the testing regime being in place. Families who had previously felt nervous about attendance because of the risk of catching COVID-19, felt more confident sending their children to school.
The Department for Education has committed £78 million to support schools with the costs incurred. The rapid testing programme is designed to reduce the need for students to self-isolate and therefore keep as many students as possible in school and transition to a new normal, benefitting from their fundamental right to a high quality education.
Department for Education
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