Schools advised not to use mass testing as an alternative to isolation

Empty classroom

The NEU is concerned about the accuracy of lateral flow tests. - Credit: Pixabay

An education union has written to schools in North Somerset advising them not to consent to mass testing if it includes an obligation to take daily tests as an alternative to isolation. 

Before the current lockdown, the government was preparing to test all secondary school pupils and staff once a week using lateral flow tests (LFTs).

Any pupil or member of staff who came into contact with a positive case would have been offered daily tests for seven days, rather than the whole school bubble being told to self-isolate.

However, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has not authorised the daily use of 30-minute LFTs due to concerns they give people false reassurance if they test negative.

The tests are designed for use on people with Covid-19 symptoms, they are supposed to be administered by trained professionals, and trials show they can miss up to 50 per cent of cases.

LFTs can help to identify some asymptomatic cases of Covid, but the National Education Union (NEU) has warned there are significant risks if they are used as a replacement to isolation. 

Jon Reddiford, branch secretary for North Somerset NEU said: "The regulator’s decision has hopefully ruled out the Department for Education’s (DfE) reckless wish to keep close contacts of positive cases in the classroom instead of ensuring they self-isolate as they should do.   

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“We would now welcome discussions with DfE on a programme which is aimed at mass testing solely for identification of asymptomatic cases which would otherwise be missed, rather than at circumventing the self-isolation rules.   

 "We have always supported the idea of mass testing in schools as a means to facilitate safe on-site learning, but this has to be consistent with scientific understanding.  

“The DfE used a study into daily lateral flow testing arrangements that were not the same as those proposed for schools. It was obvious from the start that the Department was twisting the science to justify its preferred policy of avoiding necessary self-isolation, risking an increase in the number of cases, not a reduction."  

The NEU has written to schools advising them not to sign a consent form if there is an obligation to take daily tests instead of close contacts isolating after a confirmed case. 

Mass testing is not mandatory, but schools taking part are being advised to make sure people with a positive LFT self-isolate, along with all close contacts. 

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