Children who receive false positive Covid tests at school to be banned from class for 10 days

Camilla Turner
·5-min read
Pupils at Sydney Russell School, Dagenham, queue up to be tested for Covid-19 on their return to school - Stefan Rousseau/PA
Pupils at Sydney Russell School, Dagenham, queue up to be tested for Covid-19 on their return to school - Stefan Rousseau/PA

Children who receive false positives when tested at school will still be told to self-isolate and will be banned from the classroom for 10 days, the Government has said.

Ministers have been accused of pursuing a “ridiculous” policy on lateral flow tests that has “no scientific basis” and will result in youngsters missing out on school “unnecessarily”.

It comes as millions of children returned to lessons on Monday for the first time in months.

Parents and teachers spoke of their joy of children returning to school, with one headteacher saying his school “feels alive again” as he welcomed 500 pupils back on Monday.

David McPartlin at Flakefleet Primary School in Fleetwood, Lancashire, said: "There's been a real buzz about the place and a sense of excitement this morning. Today feels like the start of the end of Covid, like we are coming out the end of a very long dark tunnel.”

Meanwhile, parents at Ide primary school near Exeter, Devon, described how happy their children were to be back at school. "My youngest has not seen any of his friends or spoken to them for months,” one mother said. “He has really missed seeing them every day."

Pupils at secondary schools have been asked to have three rapid antigen tests at school during the first fortnight of term, followed by another at home. After that they will be given two tests per week to take at home, all of which are voluntary.

On Monday the Government’s mass testing policy risked descending into chaos after remarks by a Department for Education (DfE) minister sparked confusion.

Vicky Ford, the children’s minister, suggested that students who test positive from a lateral flow test – whether taken at home or at school – will have to self-isolate whether or not they have a subsequent negative result from a PCR test which gives far more accurate results.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman was forced to clarify that students who get positive lateral flow tests at home can take a follow-up PCR test and if this is negative the pupil will be allowed to return to school.

Wes Streeting, the shadow schools minister, accused ministers of being “worse than useless”.

"What hope is there for schools, parents and pupils when ministers in the DfE can't get their basic facts right?” he said on Twitter.

Government officials confirmed that students who get a positive lateral flow test at school will be banned from lessons for 10 days even if they get a subsequent negative PCR test.

Professor Jon Deeks, an expert in biostatistics at Birmingham University, said there is “no rationale” for this, particularly since cases in the community are falling which means that a greater proportion of lateral flow tests will be false positives.

He told The Telegraph: “The total number of false positives will be constant, but the number of true positives will go down because there is less of the disease.

“So the probability of a false positive increases as the disease gets rarer, and I don’t think the Government ministers and advisers understand this.”

He said it is “ridiculous” not to allow a follow-up PCR test to override a lateral flow result taken at school, adding: “There is no scientific basis for this, you will be restricting freedoms and keeping children out of school completely unnecessarily.”

A snap poll by the Association of School and College Leaders found that 54 per cent of heads reported a take-up of between 90 and 100 per cent for the rapid Covid tests.

Nearly a quarter (24 per cent) saw a take-up of between 80 and 89 per cent while take-up was below 60 per cent in only six per cent of schools, the survey found.

The poll, of more than 700 headteachers in England, suggests nearly three quarters had more than 90 per cent of pupils wearing face masks in class.

On Monday the Government confirmed that pupils will not be forced to don face coverings in classrooms, as some will be "anxious and nervous" about wearing them.

Earlier this week The Telegraph revealed that unions have suggested schools could close if not enough pupils wear face masks, raising the spectre that the long-awaited return to classrooms could be short lived.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of ASCL, said a letter had been issued to members to send to parents who raise objections about their children wearing masks when they return to school.

The letter says that if not enough pupils wear masks it could create “ramifications” for a school’s insurance.

It explains that masks are one of the recommended measures schools need to take to get “risk of infection to an acceptable level to enable them to remain open”.

One Government source acknowledged it is "inevitable" there will be an increase in the numbers of cases as schools go back.

Professor Calum Semple, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said a small rise in the R number – representing the reproduction rate of the virus – is less important than the absolute numbers being admitted to hospital and intensive care.

He said schools are "absolutely" safe for children to return to as surveys showed that even secondary school pupils are far less likely to contract the disease or transmit it than adults.

The main risks come from the increased contacts among adults which will inevitably follow from schools reopening, he explained.

"The main driver is not the pupil-teacher relationship," Prof Semple told BBC Breakfast. “When we talk about schools, it is the fact that the school brings adults together, whether that's teaching staff, the domestic staff, the catering staff, and it's an opportunity for mixing."