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Students With False Positive Lateral Flow Tests Must Still Stay Home From School, Minister Confirms

Children returning to school this week will be required to take lateral flow tests (PA)

3 min read

Children’s minister Vicky Ford has said schools “should not take the risk” of bringing back children who’ve tested positive for Covid-19 via lateral flow tests even if a more-accurate PCR test comes back negative for the virus.

Secondary school children returning to classrooms this week will be required to take three initial lateral flow device (LFD) tests, with future tests to be carried out at home. 

But unions have expressed concern that children could be missing lessons “unnecessarily” because of the limited accuracy of such tests compared to lab-based PCR tests. 

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Ford said: “The really important thing here is to make sure that we can keep schools open and minimise the risk of having Covid in the classrooms."

Ford added that if a student received any positive result from a lateral flow test, "we should not take the risk of having that child in the class”.

The National Education Union (NEU), however, has said teachers are “entirely unconvinced” about the accuracy of LFD tests and that many children may be “kept off school unnecessarily because of a false positive”.

“The problem with these lateral flow tests is they’re not sensitive enough to do the job they’re meant to do,” said Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the NEU. 

“The PCR test is much more reliable so what I’d hope in this situation is schools get evidence of a PCR test and allow the pupils to be in school.”

On Monday, the children’s minister also defended government advice which said secondary school pupils should wear masks, despite concern over the lack of evidence backing up the guidance.

It comes after chair of the education select committee Robert Halfon said last week that senior advisers should write an open letter to parents and teachers this weekend to explain why it is important for masks to be worn in school up until the Easter holiday.

But responding to these concerns, Ford said: “I think that the vast majority of young people do get this. They want to be back at school, they want to do that safely. 

“We're going to review the mask policy at Easter. But this is based on the medical advice that we've taken from the medics and the experts that are looking at Covid. 

“I've said that we can take this really fast and important step in unlocking our country, provided we put in place these extra measures.”

She also dismissed suggestions that schools should close of the majority of pupils refused to wear masks, reiterating that most young people “get” the need to wear them.

“I think that we should strongly encourage them to wear the masks... but there will be some who are very anxious and nervous about doing so. 

“We understand that, and that is why we've not made it mandatory.”

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