We are still awaiting confirmation of the reliability and validity of the lateral flow tests devices. Where they are used would expect other control measures, such as enhanced cleaning, use of face coverings and social distancing to continue to be observed for everyone’s safety.
The different types of COVID-19 Testing
The main type of testing used in England at the moment is the PCR test. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing is currently the most common form of testing in the UK and is around 99% effective.
These are the tests used by NHS test and trace in the testing centres across the country. A swab is used to collect a sample from your tonsils and inside your nose. It is then sent off to a lab to be processed and you receive your results in around 48 hours.
Lateral flow device testing
Lateral Flow Testing is the type of testing that is being rolled out in schools and community testing centres as part of the mass testing plan for England.
You swab your nose or throat yourself, then place the sample into a tube of liquid for a short time. Within 15-20 minutes, rather like a pregnancy test two lines will show up if it is positive, one line on the top if it is negative or one line on the bottom if the test is invalid.
There have been concerns about the effectiveness of LFD tests, but it has been shown to detect 95% of people high viral loads, with little difference between those who are symptomatic and asymptomatic.
SAGE, the government's scientific advisory group, advise a follow-up confirmatory test is highly important.
Loop-mediated Isothermal Amplification (LAMP) is a similar process to PCR testing but does not require transport to a lab, instead using a special machine to heat and analyse the sample.
Like PCR testing, a swab takes samples from the nose or throat, before being placed in a special machine for 20 minutes. The machine then analyses the sample and confirms if there is any SARS-CoV-2 RNA.
LAMP testing has been trialled in England and is being rolled out into schools in Northern Ireland.
No-swab saliva test
The home testing kits that are sent out are either PCR tests or no-swab saliva tests.
You can do no-swab tests at home by collecting about two millimetres of saliva into a sample pot, then sending it off to a laboratory. It still takes about 48 hours to receive your result but there is no need to leave home
There are other tests being used in other types of setting – airports, hospitals etc. these include: Antigen testing, the 20-second test, and Antibody testing.
Mass Testing of staff and pupils
The advice for schools and school leaders (published on 4 January) can be found here.
According to the latest guidance the broad expectation is that for staff and those in Y7 and above, testing remains important and that this should proceed as planned. This means that Key Worker and Vulnerable children will need to be tested if they are to come into settings.
Staff working in Primary Schools in England will also be able to be tested. From the week commencing 18 January testing kits will be sent to all Primary Schools and staff will be able to test themselves at home. You can read more about this here.
There will normally be two tests, 3-5 days apart with confirmatory PCR tests if there is a positive outcome.
Although the announcement regarding mass testing was poorly timed, if there is suitable funding and support for schools and other settings to meet the staff and space requirements Voice Community is strongly in favour of testing and is calling for this to be rolled out to primary schools and early years settings following feedback from members in our December safety survey. Click here to see the results of
Points to note:
- Settings may need to check with their insurers around cover if staff are undertaking medical activities onsite.
- We have been informed that the wider guidance for mass testing will be updated ready for after half-term.
Testing in Special Schools and other specialist settings
As previously announced the government has again committed to mass asymptomatic testing for all pupils in Y7 and above – including those in specialist settings. Again, they confirm that
Testing is voluntary and no child or young person will be tested unless informed consent has been given by the appropriate person. No one will be prevented from receiving face-to-face education if for any reason they are not tested.
We are pleased to note a wider role out for all staff – including teachers, teaching assistants, clinical staff (employed by school), other support staff (including therapists) and those involved in cleaning testing sites. And that settings can also offer testing for other connected workers too, for example, school nurses or drivers or escorts.
The government has pledged £78m available to support schools and colleges with the initial roll-out of mass testing, however, this will be paid retrospectively, meaning that schools will initially have to find the funding themselves.
Independent schools and colleges will not be eligible for this funding, with the exception of non-maintained special schools and independent special schools.
Must I be tested?
No. Nobody has to be tested. However, for your own wellbeing, and the wellbeing of those you work with, it is a good idea to be tested and to self-isolate if you have a positive result.
Will I be administering tests?
The official testing handbook states:
Schools and colleges participating in testing will need to determine how many staff they need and where those staff will come from, for example existing staff and/or volunteers or agency workers. Where schools or colleges ask existing staff to undertake a testing role, employers should make sure this is in line with agreed terms and conditions of employment.
Voice Community feel that there needs to be outside support to enable testing to take place whilst teachers, TAs and other support staff continue to complete their dedicated duties.
No teachers can be asked to administer tests. It is explicitly not a part of a teacher’s contract to administer medicines and this falls under similar guidelines. However, you can be asked to supervise whilst the tests are administered.
School support staff are not expected to administer the tests. But school nurses, and those with paediatric first aid qualifications may be needed to provide support.
We continue to press the government for priority testing for teachers and schools staff following the feedback from members to our survey. We are pleased that the Minister for COVID Vaccine Deployment Nadhim Zahawi stated his view on ITVs ‘This Morning’ (18 January) that there is a justification for certain occupations to be prioritised as the vaccination programme develops.
“My instinct is that anyone who, through no fault of their own, has to come into contact with the virus in much greater volume and probability should be protected – teachers, policemen and women, shop workers, all those who need that additional protection”.