Schools in North Yorkshire have plans in place to ensure all pupils can enjoy a safe return to school next month, including the testing of all secondary school aged students for coronavirus.

Students attending secondary school, college and special schools will be provided with quick swab tests in school before they fully return to the classroom, designed to identify asymptomatic cases of coronavirus and provide additional reassure for pupils, parents and staff.

Following the Government announcement on Monday (February 22) schools and colleges have been updating their risk assessments and safety measures, based on the latest Government guidance.

Primary schools will reopen to all children from March 8, while students attending secondary and special schools and colleges will have a staggered return over that week to allow students to be tested at least once for coronavirus. Some secondary schools may begin testing prior to March 8.

After three initial onsite tests, it is anticipated that students in Year 7 and above will be provided with home testing kits for coronavirus tests to be carried out at home twice a week. Further Government guidance is expected on this.

The quick swab tests are voluntary and no young person will be tested without informed consent from their parent or carer. The swab tests are designed to limit the spread of the virus by helping identify asymptomatic cases, as almost a third of all positive coronavirus cases include people without symptoms.

Younger, primary-aged pupils will not be tested, but primary and secondary school staff will be provided with kits to carry out twice weekly coronavirus tests at home.

Stuart Carlton, Corporate Director of Children and Young People’s Services said: “We really welcome the news that pupils can return to school from March 8.

“For secondary school pupils, it will be a phased return the week of March 8 because there is the expectation that schools will test all pupils at least once before they return to school. How, and when, that happens depends on several factors and will vary depending on the size of the school, the different available spaces for testing and the transport arrangements they have for getting children in and out of school for the tests.

“Children and young people will not be given the coronavirus swab tests without the consent of their parents or carers. They are voluntary, and pupils will not be prevented from receiving face-to-face education if they are not tested, but the tests should provide families, pupils and staff with added reassurance as students return to school.

“Parents will hear from their school over the coming days about the date that their child can return to school and schools will prioritise children in terms of vulnerable pupils, children of critical workers and then year groups. But all children should be back at school by March 15 at the very latest.”

Schools in North Yorkshire have been carrying out lateral flow swab testing since January term for secondary aged students who have continued to attend school either due to their parents being key workers, or because they are vulnerable students.

Julia Polley, Headteacher of The Wensleydale School and Sixth Form, based in Leyburn, said: “The tests are painless, they are really quick and very effective. We have been carrying out Lateral Flow Testing since January. We have about 40 students in school and none of our students have had any problems with the tests at all.

“It’s not intrusive; students come into our testing bays, they’re asked to blow their nose and sanitise their hands and are than passed a swab to use on their nose and throat. It takes less than 30 seconds. They then have to sit for 30 minutes for the results to come through and then parents are instantly sent a text to let them know the test has been completed.

“The tests are just another layer of protection which should help reassure parents and pupils. We want all the students back in school again, feeling happy and supported and this is one of the many measures which helps us do that.”

Louise Wallace, North Yorkshire’s Director of Public Health, said: “The lateral flow tests are an additional means for schools to continue their work in keeping pupils and staff safe and to provide extra reassurance to staff, pupils and their families.”

By March 8, each school in North Yorkshire will have updated its own detailed risk assessments based on the most recent Government guidance. The risk assessments are regularly updated and takes into account each school’s unique circumstances such as building layouts and pupil numbers. The rapid swab tests add to existing safety measures already in place in schools, such as teaching children in bubbles, good ventilation, social distancing and frequent hand washing.

New Government guidance also recommends that students of secondary school-age and above wear face coverings in lessons, as well as communal spaces, but this will not apply in situations where wearing a face covering would impact on the ability to take part in exercise or strenuous activity, for example PE lessons.

The Government will be reviewing this guidance, along with other measures, at Easter.

Home to school transport will also resume on March 8, with schools making their own individual arrangements for transporting students into school for swab testing. Wrap-around care - in the form of after-school and before-school clubs - are also expected to resume, with schools in talks with providers about resuming the childcare.