Daily Contact Testing (DCT)

What is the NEU position on the Daily Contact Testing Clinical Trial taking place in the summer term 2021?

This clinical trial is taking place across 200 schools in England with the aim of evaluating the effectiveness and safety of daily contact testing as an alternative to self-isolation for the contacts of positive cases and discovering whether it creates an overall safer environment.  Back in January a big part of the NEU objection to the proposed use of daily contact testing in this way was that there had been no clinical trials in school settings.  Lateral flow tests have a role to play in identifying asymptomatic positive cases which would otherwise not be picked up, but NEU remains concerned about excessive reliance being placed on negative results, given the issue of false negatives.  Anyone testing negative needs to effectively behave as if they have the virus, with no relaxation of other protective measures.

The trial is being led by Professor Tim Peto of Oxford University, an infectious disease physician. 200 secondary schools and colleges are taking part and have been randomized into 'intervention' and 'control.' The trial will end towards the end of the summer term. 

Participation in daily contact testing (DCT) as part of the trial is voluntary and allows close contacts of positive cases to stay in school if they consent to take a lateral flow test for 7 consecutive school days. However, the only element of quarantine that can be bypassed is that school attendance is allowed. When not in school, close contacts must stay at home.

Participation in the trial is voluntary.  Any staff member, or pupil, in a trial school who wishes to self-isolate if they are a close contact of a positive case can still choose to do so.

All schools which have agreed to take part in the trial should have consulted with all staff so that they are able to give, or withhold, informed consent.   If this hasn’t happened, then NEU members are advised to raise the matter urgently with management.

NEU has called for all clinically extremely vulnerable staff to be able to continue to work from home until social distancing rules are eased more widely.  Where this isn’t happening in a school which is part of the trial intervention group then this argument should be made again at the meeting with management. Staff who are clinically vulnerable (CV) and staff aged 60 or over should be permitted to work at home, until they are advised by their GP that their initial vaccination has taken effect, as should pregnant women in their third trimester.

Where concerns are widespread among staff, and they cannot be addressed by allowing individuals to work from home, or other measures, then the best solution is for the school to abandon the trial.  It must be noted that concerns could also come from parents.  It would be counter-productive for any school to seek to insist on proceeding in the face of opposition.

Where NEU members need support, contact should be made with the local branch/district.

Mass testing programme

The mass testing programme, which is now available to staff in primary schools as well as staff and pupils in secondary schools and colleges, should now simply be focused on finding asymptomatic cases which otherwise would go unnoticed. 

It is part of a package of preventative measures, and it remains essential that everyone continues to adhere to the controls that have been in place for many months.  The key difference from the original proposal is that the revised testing system no longer offers contacts of positive cases the opportunity to continue attending school/college as long as they take a daily lateral flow test for seven days in a row without testing positive.  The NEU had opposed this as being far too risky.

Where can I find more information on the system?

How does the system operate?

The programme applies to all primary schools (including school-based nurseries, maintained nursery schools and private, voluntary and independent nurseries) PRUs, secondary schools, plus colleges with students aged 16-19, and to special schools and independent schools. All staff will be offered voluntary twice-weekly Covid-19 screening using ‘lateral flow’ tests to identify anyone who has the virus and may be asymptomatic.

Primary, including primary special school staff and nursery staff, are being supplied with lateral flow device (LFD) test kits to self-swab at home. Staff will be asked to take their test kits home and carry out the test twice a week, preferably in the morning before coming into school, but if that’s difficult it can be done in the evening. The LFD test will give a result in around 30 minutes. Staff must report their result to NHS Test and Trace as soon as the test is completed, whether positive or negative or void, either online or by telephone as per the instructions in the home test kit. Staff should also share their result, whether positive, negative, or void with their school or nursery to help with contact tracing.

Following the wider reopening of schools and colleges, there are changes to the arrangements for testing in secondary schools and colleges. Home testing is being introduced for secondary age pupils (11+) and college students. It is important that pupils and students are initially supervised whilst swabbing to make sure they are doing it correctly. This is why testing will initially take place on-site, at an asymptomatic test site (ATS). Secondary schools and colleges are asked to offer students 3 tests on-site, 3 to 5 days apart (min 3 days), upon their return. Testing on-site (via an ATS) initially is a condition of being able to transition pupils and students to test at home.

All secondary and college staff are now able to conduct their tests at home and will be asked to continue testing twice a week. Like primary staff, secondary staff will need to report their results to NHS Test and Trace as soon as the test is completed, either online or by telephone in line with the instructions in the home test kit. A confirmatory polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test will be required for all positive cases. Until schools receive supplies of home test kits, staff should continue to be offered twice weekly testing at their school or college test site.

Schools and colleges are asked to retain a small ATS (1 to 3 bays, depending on the size of the school or college) on site so they can offer testing to students who are unable or unwilling to test themselves at home.

It is important to keep testing going through the holidays to manage the spread of COVID-19 and staff, pupils and students should be encouraged to test themselves twice a week.

Testing for families and childcare bubbles of students, pupils and staff is now available via home test kits for collection at testing sites (COVID Test Finder) or through an online ordering service. More information on ordering home test kits can be found here.

Aren’t there issues around the accuracy of the LFD tests?

Yes, there has been controversy around their use. However, as a way of finding some asymptomatic cases that otherwise would not be picked up, there is value in the approach. The NEU is opposed to their use by close contacts of positive cases as an alternative to self-isolation, but that element of the testing system has been abandoned by the Government.  It is also important that receipt of a negative test result does not lead to any relaxations of other mitigations, at either an individual or collective level.

Is testing mandatory?

Tests are not mandatory, and neither staff nor pupils need to provide proof of a negative test result to attend school, college or nursery in person.  However, participation in the testing programme is strongly encouraged both by the DfE and by the NEU.

What happens after you have taken the test?

In a change to its previous policy, the DfE now says that LFD tests taken on test sites, such as on school and college grounds, do require a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) confirmation in the event of a positive result.

All pupils, staff, and their households who take their tests at home should report positive results by calling 119 or through the online form. Tests at home should be followed up by a confirmatory PCR test in the event of a positive result.

As such, if a pupil, a member of staff or a member of their household gets a positive result at home they should report the result and arrange to have a PCR test by following this link.

In the event that the PCR test is negative – that they do not have Covid 19 – this overrides the lateral flow test, and they should therefore return to school.

If a pupil or student receives a positive LFD result, then they and other members of their household must self-isolate. They must continue to self-isolate whilst awaiting the result of the PCR test.

Students and staff are also required to record and share their result (whether positive, negative or void) with NHS Test and Trace.

Positive results should be shared with the school/college so that immediate contact tracing can take place in school. Void and negative results are useful information for their school both to monitor stocks of kits and to identify any issues that might need escalating to DfE or NHS Test & Trace.

Close contacts should only arrange a test if they develop COVID-19 symptoms. If for any reason the close contact has a negative test result during their 10-day isolation period, they must continue to self-isolate. Even if they don’t have symptoms, they could still pass the infection on to others. Close contacts should stay at home for the full 10 days to avoid putting others at risk.

Anyone with a negative LFD test result can continue to attend school, college or nursery and use protective measures. You should not assume that you are negative simply on the basis of an LFD test and should continue to take all normal precautions in the workplace and elsewhere.

Anyone with a positive LFD/PCR test result will need to self-isolate in line with the stay-at-home guidance.

The asymptomatic testing programme does not replace the current testing policy for those with symptoms. Anyone with symptoms (even if they recently had a negative LFD test result), should still self-isolate immediately according to Government guidelines.

Those with symptoms are also expected to order a test online or visit a test site to take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to check if they have the virus.

Should I still take part in the asymptomatic testing programme if I have recently tested positive for COVID-19?

If individuals have recently (within 90 days) had a positive PCR test for COVID-19, they are likely to have developed some immunity. Individuals are exempt from testing by both PCR and LFD within 90 days of a positive PCR test, unless they develop new symptoms. They are still required to self-isolate if they are identified as a close contact of a positive case, even if this is within the 90-day window.

However, individuals may choose to take an LFD test after the 10-day isolation period, for example as part of a workplace or community testing programme. This should only be done after completion of the required self-isolation period as per the NHS stay at home guidance. If they test positive with a LFD test, they will be required to self-isolate for 10 days, or longer if symptomatic (i.e. they will have to start a new isolation period from the day their symptoms began and then continue isolating for the next full 10 days). 

Who should run the tests in secondary schools and colleges?

The initial testing of pupils and ongoing testing of those who are unable or unwilling to do it themselves at home can be run by staff, external volunteers (e.g. parents or retired staff) or additional paid temporary agency/contract staff.

Is involvement in rolling out the tests voluntary for staff in secondary schools?

Assistance with the process is voluntary. The DfE has recognised that schools may need to use volunteers or temporary staff.

The NEU believes that most staff working in a school or college will not be contractually required to carry out most of the tasks associated with the testing system.

Notwithstanding the contractual situation, many staff will also be unhappy about volunteering to perform specific tasks on their own merits, e.g, Test Assistant - "Collects completed swabs and pass them to the Processor. Ensures cleaning of swabbing bays." Or Processor - "Prepares test sample for analysis, conducts processing of Lateral Flow Device (LFD) and interprets result. Provides results to Results Recorder. Ensures cleaning of processing bays."

If your school or college try to coerce you into taking part in any aspect of the testing programme with which you are uncomfortable, please speak to your NEU workplace rep, or in the absence of a rep, your NEU branch office.

Do the primary and secondary testing programmes cover pupils, including those with SEND?

Only the secondary system covers pupils. As far as secondary specialist settings are concerned, it is recognised that there will be additional considerations to take into account when delivering asymptomatic testing to pupils. Self-swabbing may cause significant concerns for some children and young people with SEND. Testing is voluntary and no child or young person will be tested unless informed consent has been given by the appropriate person.

Where can I find out more about testing in special schools?

The DfE have issued specific guidance for special schools which takes account of the particular challenges of swabbing SEND pupils.

Specialist settings are encouraged to:

  • test staff on a twice-weekly basis, with tests 3 to 4 days apart
  • offer one-off testing (only to those who have yet to return to their institution) of pupils and students of secondary school age and those aged 19 to 25 with education, health and care (EHC) plans when they return to their setting

Any staff working on a setting’s site can be offered lateral flow device (LFD) tests at the setting’s discretion. This includes:

  • teachers
  • teaching assistants
  • clinical staff employed by the school
  • other support staff (including therapists)
  • those involved in cleaning testing sites
  • drivers and escorts on school transport

How does this new system affect the school/college Covid-19 risk assessment?

Risk assessment is a dynamic process and needs to be kept under regular review, for example when circumstances change, and additional hazards become apparent. For secondary schools and colleges in particular cleaning and hygiene measures will need to be revised to cover the operation of the test sites. Staff should be consulted on proposed changes and there is a legal requirement to consult health and safety reps. Individual risk assessments for vulnerable staff will also need to be updated to include any new measures necessary to keep staff safe. See Coronavirus: school/college risk assessment | NEU

Does the requirement for schools and colleges to maintain a voluntary approach to the delivery of testing also extend to support staff working with secondary aged students who may be more likely than other staff to be asked to assist?

Yes. Many support staff will have, as part of their job description, the requirement to administer medication to pupils, but that expectation should not be extended without agreement to cover involvement in the new Covid-19 testing programme.

How do supply staff fit in to the testing plan?

If they are on long term assignments in either primary or secondary settings, they should be included in the twice-weekly home testing arrangements for all staff. When working on a daily basis, they should still be offered twice-weekly testing either by the school, the employment agency or the local council. Where they test positive, we would expect that supply staff continue to be paid for the assignment.

What about peripatetic staff?

Peripatetic staff should be treated similarly to supply staff, with testing arrangements provided by a school or LA.  They shouldn’t need to be tested prior to each visit to a school – they can simply confirm that they are participating in the twice-weekly arrangements with a particular school or local authority.

How should testing operate on multiple sites?

Arrangements should be part of a revised risk assessment.  Additional movement between sites for testing purposes will lead to more mixing and more likelihood of infection.  Where possible, a testing facility could be established on each site with staff and students always remaining on the same site, including FE students who may also be spending time at employer workplaces.

Further questions

If the answer to your question is not covered above, the DfE has published a set of FAQs on the testing programme. Information on funding and delivery arrangements and other matters can be found on the rapid testing sharing platform.