Parents could administer rapid Covid-19 tests for schoolchildren in UK

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Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, © PA Wire/PA Images
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By Eleanor Busby, PA Education Correspondent

Parents could be asked to test primary school-aged children for Covid-19 at home rather than at school under the UK government’s plans to roll out mass testing among pupils.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said primary school teachers will be able to be tested for Covid-19 next week, but he added that it was “not appropriate or right” to ask staff to test primary school pupils.

Instead, the government is considering a system whereby families could administer the rapid coronavirus tests for primary school-aged children from their homes, Mr Williamson told MPs.

The mass testing of staff and pupils in secondary schools and colleges began being rolled out in England last week as part of the government’s efforts to bring students back to class safely.

Following the announcement that most pupils will now learn remotely until February half-term, the lateral flow tests are being used on staff, children of key workers and vulnerable pupils who are still on-site.

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Testing is a really important part of bringing people back into school

Addressing the Education Select Committee, Mr Williamson said: “Testing is a really important part of bringing people back into school. It’s an important part of fighting Covid-19 right across the community.

“If we’re testing a child, in essence we’re in a position where we’re also testing a household as well.

“We’re extending staff testing as of next week to primary schools and I would like to see it rolled out to all pupils, that’s my ambition – that’s where I want us to get to.”

Self-administer

Mr Williamson said that both primary teachers and support staff would be able to self-administer the tests at home and the government was providing a £78 million (€87 million) support package to help with the roll-out.

On the testing of primary school pupils, the education secretary told MPs: “In a primary school setting you’d have to ask the staff to do the tests themselves and I just do not think that is appropriate or right.

“What we have been looking at doing is having a system where the tests are carried out by the parents on their child… and that would have to take place in the home.”

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Susan Acland-Hood, permanent secretary at the Department for Education (DfE), told the committee: “Getting to the point where parents can administer the tests at home unlocks the ability to do primary testing on a much greater scale in a way that is more straightforward but also more appropriate.”

Mr Williamson was questioned by MPs about school attendance rates of key workers’ children and vulnerable pupils in the latest lockdown in England after school leaders have reported higher demand.

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The education secretary told the parliamentary committee that the latest data shows that 14 per cent of pupils were in class on the first day of this week.

Attendance statistics, released on Wednesday morning by the DfE, suggest that around a fifth (20 per cent) of primary school pupils were on-site on Monday – and only 4 per cent of secondary school students were in class.

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