Teenagers to be urged to test themselves for Covid under schools return plan

Dan SandersonWed, 10 February 2021, 7:55 pm

 student of Newcastle Sixth Form College performs a lateral flow antigen test -  LEE SMITH/Reuters
student of Newcastle Sixth Form College performs a lateral flow antigen test – LEE SMITH/Reuters

Teenagers will be asked to test themselves for coronavirus twice a week under plans to roll out kits to Scottish school children.

John Swinney, the Education Secretary, unveiled details of delayed plans for asymptomatic testing of pupils and staff , ahead of schools reopening on a limited basis on February 22.

Tests will initially be made available to all school staff as well as senior phase pupils, who are to be allowed back into schools to complete essential work for national qualifications.

Staff and pupils will be given lateral flow test kits to take home twice weekly, which give rapid results, and will “perform the test on themselves or with the support of a parent or guardian”. They will then be told to register their result online.

John Swinney announced the plans - Pool/REUTERS
John Swinney announced the plans – Pool/REUTERS

The programme is voluntary, and staff and pupils can refuse the kits if they wish. However, they are to be “encouraged to participate” in the programme, which Mr Swinney said “would contribute to the wellbeing of their school communities”

Jamie Greene, education spokesman for the Scottish Tories, said: “All too often promises on mass testing in our schools have failed to materialise under the SNP, so this is a welcome step in the right direction.

“With the UK Government supporting the testing efforts, it shows how both of Scotland’s Governments are working closely together in order to tackle Covid cases as quickly as possible in our schools.

“It is imperative SNP ministers give our schools every resource they require to guarantee this expanded testing regime will be successful as pupils return to classrooms in the coming weeks.”

Anyone testing positive will be told to isolate immediately and book a PCR test, which is seen as more accurate with results analysed in a lab.

The Scottish Government has said getting children back into classrooms is its number one priority in easing restrictions.

However, initially only pre-schoolers and those in Primary 1-3 will be allowed back, along with the senior pupils. Primary pupils will not be tested. The same testing regime will be in place in private schools. Tests are being delivered to schools from this week.

Mr Swinney said: “The purpose of the programme is to contribute to the reduction of Covid 19 related risks in schools and ELC [early learning and childcare] settings, and in so doing to enhance the confidence of our school/ELC communities.

“It will do so by helping to identify asymptomatic individuals in school and ELC environments at the earliest opportunity, and asking them and their close contacts to self-isolate, thus minimising the likelihood of them passing on the virus.”

The Scottish Government had initially pledged that a Covid-19 testing regime for schools would be in place within weeks last summer, but it never materialised.

Public health experts hope that asymptomatic testing will help them better understand the role of schools in driving outbreaks, as many young people who catch the virus do not display symptoms.

Beatrice Wishart the LibDem MSP called for registered childminders to have access to testing on the same basis as teachers and school-based nursery staff.

“Unfortunately, once again there are big holes in the proposals that the government have set out,” she said.

“Childminders have an important role to play in ensuring parents can access the childcare they need but they are being treated like second class citizens. They should have the same access to testing as early years workers in other settings.

“Ministers need to ensure that this testing is made available and in future make sure that all early years staff receive the reassurances they need to work safely.”