Mass testing and mandatory face masks: schools prepare for reopening date

Boris Johnson will set out his plans for the reopening of schools when he outlines his "road map" out of lockdown on February 22.

Boris Johnson will set out his plans for the reopening of schools when he outlines his "road map" out of lockdown on February 22. - Credit: PA

Schools are preparing for a significant toughening of measures including mandatory face masks and mass rapid testing to get pupils back into classrooms.

With pressure for schools to reopen, the government is considering making all pupils to wear masks outside classroom bubbles in secondary schools and for the repeat mass testing of pupils as well as staff, it has been reported. 

Boris Johnson will set out his plans for the reopening of schools when he outlines his "road map" out of lockdown on Monday.

The prime minister has cautioned that the date is dependent on a number of factors, including the rate of vaccination amongst priority groups, but it will be March 8 "at the earliest".

The government is considering extending making all pupils to wear masks outside classroom bubbles in secondary schools.

The government is considering extending making all pupils to wear masks outside classroom bubbles in secondary schools. - Credit: PA

Reports citing sources close to the planning have suggested measures to allow pupils to return will include deploying repeat rapid testing of pupils to be conducted in schools when they return, before switching to home tests.

Health minister Helen Whately said there is "work in progress" after being questioned about reports that parents could be asked to test their children at home twice a week.


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School leaders have called for a phased approach to reopening schools rather than a “big bang” return that would see 10 million students and staff back into the classroom on the same day.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the chang

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the change Picture: PHIL MORELY - Credit: Archant

Former Suffolk head Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL head teachers' union, said: "If they come back into the classroom all at the same time, they would have to be taken out of class for the tests to take place by which time they will have already mixed.

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"So, it would make more sense for them to be brought back into school in phases and tested as they return."

He added: "Beyond the initial testing phase, we have urged the Government to allow these Covid-19 tests to be done at home using home-testing kits in order to reduce the logistical burden on schools of running testing centres which is a very onerous expectation."

Reopening schools could see repeat rapid testing of pupils to be conducted in schools when they return, before switching to home tests.

Reopening schools could see repeat rapid testing of pupils to be conducted in schools when they return, before switching to home tests. - Credit: PA

Teachers, support staff and some pupils at Norfolk schools have already begun to self-administer lateral flow tests at home twice a week.

Brian Conway, chief executive of St John the Baptist Catholic MAT, which includes Notre Dame High School in Norwich, said: “We have planned carefully to introduce onsite lateral flow testing for staff and our students who are on site during lockdown. 

“We are pleased that we have organised systems that are successfully operating and have identified several cases of symptom free Covid-19 in our community. 

Brian Conway, chief executive of St John the Baptist Catholic MAT.

Brian Conway, chief executive of St John the Baptist Catholic MAT. - Credit: Denise Bradley

“We believe we can test the whole school community once schools get the green light to reopen, as we have created an environment where students and staff can be mass tested, potentially up to 400 per day.”

Oliver Burwood, chief executive of Diocese of Norwich Education and Academies Trust (DNEAT), said: “We want all children and staff to have access to testing in a safe and dignified way. We will happily support home testing to enable this and await guidance on the procedures that will allow this to be as efficient and safe as possible for schools and families. 

“Although there will be a logistical challenge in testing secondary age children and young people we will work with leaders and staff to ensure they have the resources they need to do this. 

Oliver Burwood, chief executive of Diocese of Norwich Education and Academies Trust.

Oliver Burwood, chief executive of Diocese of Norwich Education and Academies Trust. - Credit: DNEAT

“If additional measures, such as compulsory mask wearing for secondary age students as they move around the school site, are unveiled then this should all contribute to making our academies as safe as possible.”

Last year, the Government gave headteachers the discretion to require pupils in secondary schools to wear face masks in indoor communal areas like corridors where it is difficult to social distance. 

But during the current lockdown, it is compulsory for pupils still attending secondary school in-person to wear face coverings while they are moving around the site and it is believed this could be extended. 

The return of all pupils should be staggered schools leaders have urged. 

The return of all pupils should be staggered schools leaders have urged. - Credit: PA

Officials have also considered extending masks to primary schools, but reports suggest this is unlikely to be adopted.

The Department for Education is planning to launch a PR campaign to shore up parents’ confidence in school safety ahead of the reopening.

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