Students are being urged to take a Covid-19 test before returning to school to minimise disruption to lessons.
Ministers and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) are asking young people to take a rapid lateral flow test before the end of the October half-term to help prevent the spread of coronavirus at schools.
It comes as figures from the start of the October half-term holiday show that the rates of new Covid cases among schoolchildren in England have slightly fallen.
Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UKHSA, said: “Today I am calling on all children to help themselves and each other by getting tested before going back to the classroom so that we can stop the infection in its tracks and keep as many children in the classroom as possible, continuing their education and developing their futures.”
Pupils are also being urged to get vaccinated, whether it be at school or at walk-in centres.
Since returning to school in September, secondary school and college students have been asked to test twice weekly at home.
The latest UKHSA figures show a total of 1,201.2 cases per 100,000 people aged 10 to 19 were recorded in the seven days leading to October 24, decreasing week on week from 1,388.0.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “As we start the countdown to Christmas, testing regularly and getting vaccinated is the best thing we can all do to protect education and make sure we can enjoy the best of the season – whether that’s the school nativity or the family gathering over the holidays.
“That’s why I want to encourage every young person in secondary school or college to take a test before you return to the classroom next week. We have come so far in our fight against this virus, and now every single test and every single jab puts another brick in our wall of defence.”
Vaccines were first offered to 12 to 15-year-olds in England from September 20, but so far the rollout has been delivered mostly in schools.
But over the past week, parents and guardians have been able to book vaccinations online at local sites for their 12 to 15-year-old children.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “As students prepare to go back to school and college after half-term, it is vital that they are taking free and easy rapid tests that will help detect Covid-19 infections from those who are not showing symptoms to keep the virus at bay.
“Alongside testing, the vaccines are a huge defence in our armoury. We’ve already seen tens of thousands of people aged between 12 and 17 booking in for their Covid-19 vaccines over half-term at a local vaccination site to get protection ahead of winter, with more children expected to come forward for vaccines at schools next week.”
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies