Secondary schools and colleges to get rapid Covid testing in January
- Credit: PA
Every secondary school and college in the region will be given access to rapid coronavirus tests from January, the government has announced.
The move comes as the latest Department for Education (DfE) figures show that pupil attendance fell last week.
Almost one in 10 state school pupils did not attend school for Covid-19-related reasons on Thursday, and the figures for Norfolk and Suffolk are lower than the national average.
Positive cases and staff self-isolating has still had a significant impact on Norfolk schools with 13 either closed or partially closed and dozens more affected.
It is hoped the ‘huge expansion’ of testing from January will improve attendance and ensure young people can benefit from face-to-face teaching as much as possible.
All staff in secondary schools and colleges will be eligible for weekly rapid tests as part of an initial rollout, but they will also be offered daily testing if they are identified as a close contact.
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Students will not need to self-isolate if another student or staff member tests positive in their "bubble" if they agree to be tested once a day in the new year, the DfE has said.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: "This huge expansion of rapid testing for those working in education is a milestone moment in our work to keep schools and colleges open for all.
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"I know it has taken a phenomenal effort from everyone to ensure approximately 99pc of schools have been open each week since the start of term.
"Testing on this scale brings real benefits to education, it means more children, teachers and staff can stay in their classes in schools and colleges without the need to self-isolate."
Test kits will begin arriving at secondary schools and colleges for the first phase of rollout to staff from the first week of January.
Geoff Barton, leader of the ASCL head teachers’ union, and a former head in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, said: “It isn’t perhaps the ideal moment to be announcing a huge mass testing programme when schools and colleges are already under massive pressure on multiple fronts and with only a few days of the autumn term left.
“However, leaders would rather know what was on the horizon at the earliest opportunity, and the availability of lateral flow tests does have the potential to be a game-changer over the course of the next term.”