Teachers and some students in schools across Eden have begun self-testing in the fight back against COVID-19 — despite concerns over the accuracy of the tests and this week’s government announcement that schools will remain closed for a further five weeks.
Teachers and staff in secondary schools began self-testing last week, with primary schools following suit this week.
In guidance from Public Health England, school staff have been asked to use lateral flow tests twice a week to ensure they are COVID free.
Guidance sent out by Cumbria County Council advises that in primary schools only staff should be tested but in secondary schools, pupils attending should also be tested for the virus.
The twice weekly testing regime is aimed at teachers being able to continue to deliver education from within schools, and in secondary schools mix with pupils.
Those that test positive are ordered to isolate along with their household and book a PCR test following government guidance thereafter.
However, fears have been expressed about the validity of the testing throughout the country after Oxford University researchers found the tests picked up only 77 per cent of COVID cases, rising to over 90 per cent in the most heavily infected.
Kirkby Stephen Grammar School headteacher Gary Hartley said around 15 members of staff who are in school each day on average are testing themselves twice a week, but the school is holding back on testing students.
Mr Hartley explained his had been the only school in Eden to join a pilot testing scheme in December.
Under the scheme, 205 staff and pupils were tested on January 4 with help from the local authority, with all testing negative for COVID.
Given the high rate of cases in Eden at the time and the data on the accuracy of the tests, he feared this could have meant nearly 25 per cent of these results could have been “false negatives”.
“It meant almost one in four could be inaccurate, so I’m dubious about how much value these tests have in schools. If a proportion are inaccurate, that’s as dangerous as not testing,” he said.
Despite having reservations, staff at Kirkby Stephen Grammar School are carrying out tests and logging their results with the school.
Mr Hartley confirmed that although the tests were optional, all staff had agreed to take part. At present only around 15 pupils per day are attending the school, which has 350 on its roll.
At Penrith’s Ullswater Community College, students are also being tested along with staff.
Staff at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Penrith confirmed they are using the lateral flow tests but are not testing students at present.
Kristian Moore, deputy head at Appleby Grammar School, told the Herald: “We have limited staff on site, with the majority of teachers delivering lessons remotely from home.
“We continue to follow health and safety guidance regarding lateral flow testing during school closure.”
Schools have been closed across England since January 5 when the third national lockdown was introduced, only vulnerable children or children of key workers are allowed to attend.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced schools will remain closed until at least March 8.