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updated on 21 January 2021
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School types: All · School phases: All

Public Health England has advised that daily coronavirus testing for close contacts of confirmed cases should pause, but that staff should still be tested regularly, ideally twice a week. Get answers to FAQs alongside a summary of what we know so far.

21 January 2021: we've added a link to the document sharing platform for primary schools and made changes to the section on 'How should we get consent from staff' for primary schools.

20 January 2021: 
we've updated this article to reflect Public Health England's (PHE's) recommendations for testing by:
  • Removing references to daily 'serial' testing for staff and pupils in secondary schools identified as close contacts of confirmed cases of coronavirus. This is because PHE has recommended close-contact testing should be paused unless your school is participating in further research of the programme 
  • Updating the section on secondary schools to say staff should get tested ideally twice a week (instead of weekly)
  • Clarifying that secondary pupils should still be tested twice upon their return to school 
We've also removed the DfE's testing handbook from the list of guidance in our 'What we know so far' section, as the DfE has withdrawn this handbook from its website. We expect the DfE to publish updated guidance soon, and will update this article when we know more. Click 'save for later' in the top right-hand corner to receive a notification when we do. 

What we know so far

Testing staff in primary schools

The DfE has said that:  

  • Staff, including staff in school-based nurseries and maintained nursery schools, will be offered home testing kits, which they should use twice a week
  • These should start to arrive from 18 January (though you don't need to start using them before 25 January) 
  • If you don't receive the home testing kits by 25 January, you should fill out this contact form. You'll need your school's URN 
  • You're strongly encouraged to attend DfE webinars on testing (you should've received details of dates and times in an email from the DfE). If you're unable to attend the webinars, they'll be available afterwards on the DfE's YouTube page
  • Private early years providers are eligible for regular asymptomatic coronavirus testing through local community testing programmes

Testing pupils and staff in secondary schools

Public Health England's position statement from 20 January recommends that: 

  • Staff and pupils who are identified as close contacts of confirmed cases of coronavirus should not do rapid daily 'serial' testing as an alternative to self-isolation
  • If your school has found daily testing useful and would like to participate in the government's further evaluation of it, contact the NHS Test and Trace evaluation team at
  • You should continue to test your staff regularly, ideally twice a week
  • Pupils should still be tested twice upon their return to school 

The DfE has not confirmed whether all eligible schools are expected to take up the programme.

The government has published the following guidance and resources:

Primary schools: twice-weekly home testing for staff

What is it and how will it work? 

Staff in primary schools, including school-based nurseries and maintained nursery schools, will be offered to self-administer lateral flow device coronavirus tests (read more about these below) at home twice a week. 

Staff are strongly encouraged to participate in testing, though it's not mandatory.  

Staff must report their result to NHS Test and Trace, either by phone or online (there'll be instructions in the testing kit for them to do this). They should also share their result with you to help you with contact tracing. 

If the test is:

  • Positive, they need to self-isolate and take a 'standard' PCR test to confirm their result
  • Negative, they can continue to attend school or nursery in person. They don't need to show you proof of this 

Update your risk assessment

You may need to update your coronavirus risk assessment to reflect your school's procedure for staff home-testing. Use our template risk assessment to help you (note that we're currently updating it).  

What's the difference between a lateral flow test and a 'standard' PCR test?

Lateral flow tests produce results in 30 minutes and don't need to be processed in a lab. They're different from 'standard' polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which need to be sent to a lab to get results within a few days.

What if staff test negative but show symptoms? 

Anyone showing symptoms, regardless of their lateral flow test result, should self-isolate immediately. Display our flowchart to help you and your staff visualise this process. 

Do we need to get consent from staff?

We've asked the DfE to clarify whether primary schools need to get consent from staff for home-testing. The primary schools' document sharing platform doesn't mention consent, but we'll update this article as soon as we have more information. 


Secondary schools: overview of the 2 streams of testing

Please note: some of the information below is based on the DfE's testing handbook, which has been withdrawn from its website. We're expecting the DfE to publish updated guidance soon, and will update this article when that happens. 

There are currently 2 streams of coronavirus testing in schools with secondary-age pupils (including special schools and alternative providers): 

  • Testing pupils twice upon their return to school 
  • Regular testing of staff members, ideally twice a week  

See a summary of the 2 streams and what you're expected to do below (note that a third stream, on daily 'serial' testing of close contacts of confirmed coronavirus cases, has been paused). You should read all the guidance in full (links above) when planning to implement the programme. 

How will we carry out the testing?

You'll use lateral flow device coronavirus tests - these produce results in 30 minutes and don't need to be processed in a lab. They're different from 'standard' polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which need to be sent to a lab to get results within a few days.

Most pupils will administer the lateral flow test to themselves, supervised by an adult. If it wouldn't be appropriate for a pupil to administer the test themselves, an adult should administer it to them.

How will we get the materials we need for testing?

The DfE will provide these, including lateral flow test kits and personal protective equipment (PPE). The number of tests you get will depend on the number of pupils you have on roll. See pages 9 and 10 of the testing handbook for more details of what you'll receive.

How many staff/volunteers will we need for testing and how do we pay for it?

A workforce planning tool is available on the schools document sharing platform. This will help you determine:

  • The number of testing bays you'll need
  • The number of staff required

Page 20 of the testing handbook sets out the 7 types of roles you'll need to fill.

You'll be reimbursed for costs

The amount you'll get will depend on your school's size, as this impacts the size of the workforce you'll need. The government has set aside £78 million to help with testing costs, which will be paid retrospectively.

Independent schools aren't eligible for this funding.

Do pupils and staff have to get tested?

No. Participation in testing is voluntary. You'll need to get consent from staff and pupils (or their parents/guardians if you're testing pupils under 16) to test them. 

How should we get consent?

You need to offer the person giving consent a privacy notice, so they understand what’s happening with their data. The DfE has produced a template privacy notice, consent form and letter you can use here

The DfE suggests having a copy of the privacy notice available on your website (see page 9 of the testing handbook for more details). You can also find more information on gaining consent on page 28 of the how-to guide.

What if staff or pupils test negative but show symptoms? 

Anyone showing symptoms, regardless of their lateral flow test result, should self-isolate immediately. Display our flowchart to help you and your staff visualise this process. 


What secondary schools need to do to implement the programme

Your school will need to:

  • Provide staff and/or volunteers to support the work
  • Make sure your staff and/or volunteers attend training - the DfE will provide a mandatory online training package
  • Set up an appropriate testing area - see page 11 of the DfE's how-to guide
  • Communicate with parents, pupils and staff about testing - see page 10 of the DfE's handbook
  • Seek consent from parents (if you're testing pupils under 16), pupils and staff members if you test them, and provide data protection information - use the DfE's template consent form for this
  • Update its risk assessment - use our template to help you

If your school uses Arbor MIS, you'll soon be able to do bulk tracking of coronavirus tests - Arbor is working on a new feature that'll allow you to record who's taken a test and what the result was. You'll also be able to filter for pupils who've had consent for testing. 

Stream 1: back-to-school testing for all pupils and staff

What is it? 

All secondary-age pupils and staff at your school will be offered 2 lateral flow coronavirus tests as they return to school for the spring term. Participation is optional, and pupils and staff may return to school even if they haven't taken a test. 

How will it work?

If the lateral flow test is positive, the pupil/staff member will need to self-isolate immediately and confirm the result with a standard PCR coronavirus test.

If the test is negative, ask them to take another lateral flow test between 3 and 5 days later. If the second test is positive, they should self-isolate immediately and take a standard PCR test to confirm the result.

Stream 2: regular testing for staff 

What is it?

All staff in secondary schools will be offered regular coronavirus testing, ideally twice a week. Participation is optional.

This includes supply teachers, peripatetic teachers, temporary staff and initial teacher training (ITT) trainees - see pages 17 and 36 of the government's guidance on partial school closure.

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