ASCL comment on lateral flow tests decision

20/01/2021
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, responds to the decision on the use of lateral flow tests in schools and colleges.
 
Responding to the decision on the use of lateral flow tests in schools and colleges, Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:
 
“We are relieved that lateral flow tests have now been paused as an alternative to self-isolation for individuals who have been in close contact with someone who has coronavirus.
 
“This use of these tests never really made sense because they don’t detect all those with the infection, so we could potentially have ended up with more infectious people in school than under the self-isolation system where close contacts are sent home. We have been making this point to the government repeatedly over the past few weeks.
 
“It is important to understand that this issue is about one specific use of these tests. We support the principle of using them for general mass testing of students and staff because this process should pick up at least a proportion of asymptomatic cases and improve safety. Our concern was purely over the idea of using them as a worse alternative to the existing self-isolation system for close contacts.
 
“Unfortunately, the government’s insistence on first trying to use them in this way and then having to do yet another policy reversal will have thoroughly confused parents, pupils and the wider public. Schools will once again be left having to unpick the confusion caused by the government.
 
“It is important that the government provides absolute clarity about the limitations of these tests. They are useful in detecting asymptomatic cases but they are not definitive and it is vital that individuals continue to follow the normal safety procedures even if they have a negative result.
 
“It is also vital that the government reviews the practical implications of mass testing in secondary schools and colleges which have been left with the enormous logistical exercise of recruiting and training large numbers of staff, and setting up testing stations. As a starting point, it would be much more straightforward if staff were able to test themselves at home on a regular basis, as primary staff are now being asked to do. This would relieve at least some of the pressure on testing stations, and make the programme more manageable.
 
“When schools fully reopen, mass testing is an important part of keeping them open and minimising disruption. The government has to do better.”