Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Back to school: Boris Johnson contradicts education minister on Covid testing

Children can go back to class if lab test reverses positive check at home, says Downing Street

Andrew Woodcock,Ashley Cowburn
Monday 08 March 2021 16:54 GMT
Students return to school across the UK after lockdown

Downing Street has contradicted an education minister by saying that children who test positive for coronavirus in a lateral flow test can be cleared to go to school if they later test negative in the more reliable PCR test.

Children’s minister Vicky Ford sparked alarm among parents by saying that schools should not take the risk of having a child in the classroom who has tested positive in a rapid-turnaround test carried out at home – even if they later test negative in a laboratory test.

But Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson later insisted that the opposite was true, telling reporters that a pupil can come out of self-isolation and return to school if the lab test comes back negative.

He told a regular Westminster media briefing: “If a PCR test is negative following a positive lateral flow, children can go back to school.”

The spokesperson said that the aim would be to get PCR tests out “as quickly as possible” after the positive lateral flow test performed at home.

Back-up PCR tests are not needed after rapid tests performed at school, because they are done “under supervision in a controlled environment”, he said.

The contradictory messages fuelled confusion on the day when schools across England began welcoming millions of children back in the first major step in easing the national lockdown after more than two months.

Upon returning, students in secondary schools and colleges will have to take three lateral flow tests onsite under supervision, before being asked to perform the rapid tests twice a week at home.

Questioned on the new testing system, Ms Ford told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If they test positive then they shouldn’t be in school. 

“The lateral flow test – as we heard yesterday from Public Health England – they’ve got less than one in 1,000 chance of having a false positive. So if they test positive they should stay out of school.”

Presented with the situation of a child testing positive using a self-administered lateral flow device at home and then receiving a negative result after using a laboratory test, Ms Ford suggested they would still have to complete their 10-day self-isolation period.

“The first priority is to make sure we keep the Covid out of the classrooms, with these regular tests,” she stressed.

“The chances of a lateral flow test giving a false positive are actually very low. There will obviously be discussions with the pupils and their families if they then have the negative test later.”

“The really important thing here is to make sure we can keep schools open and minimise the risk of having Covid in the classrooms and that is why people who’ve had the test that shows they have got Covid through the lateral flow test, we should not take the risk of having the child in the classroom.

Quizzed on whether a laboratory test could override the lateral flow test, the minister went on: “They should not take the risk. We all want to make sure that we can keep Covid out of the classrooms here.”

Wes Streeting, the shadow schools minister, criticised the government for confused messaging.

“What hope is there for schools, parents and pupils when ministers in the Department for Education can’t get their basic facts right,” he asked.

“Is there a single day or a single announcement or a single initiative that Gavin Williamson’s bungling team have managed to get through unscathed? Worse than useless.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in