Skip to main content

Guidance on coronavirus asymptomatic testing in schools and colleges.

First published:
21 December 2020
Last updated:

Coronavirus (COVID-19) asymptomatic testing in primary, secondary, further education and childcare settings

In order to quickly detect asymptomatic individuals and ask them to self-isolate as soon as possible to reduce the likelihood of clusters and outbreaks in settings and the disruption that brings to education and care, we encourage all staff and learners of secondary school age and above to test using Lateral Flow Tests (LFTs) 3 times a week at home from January 2022.

In line with the approach for Health and Social Care workers those working in special educational provision will, from 22 December 2021, be asked to test using LFTs every day before they come to work. 

Staff working in mainstream schools and colleges in high prevalence areas may be temporarily advised to increase the frequency of their testing to every day if local IMTs advise it necessary.

This testing approach will help to identify people who are unknowingly infected with COVID-19 who would have otherwise unknowingly spread the virus to others and can contribute to children and young people remaining in face-to-face education and childcare.

Tests are available to:

  • all members of staff in all schools, colleges, universities and in all childcare and play work settings secondary school pupils
  • all Further Education (FE) learners

All those who regularly work face to face with children in education and childcare settings on a day to day basis should be offered tests.

To facilitate access to tests for those who regularly work in education and childcare settings but are not directly associated with one school or setting, or work from their home, (as in the case of childminders), these staff can order online, collect from their pharmacy or a local collection site.

The LFTs provided to staff and learners for regular asymptomatic testing may also be used for daily testing if staff or learners are identified as a close contact (or household contact) of a confirmed case.

Primary schools will be provided with an additional small supply of LFTs to support the daily testing of any primary pupils whose parents or carers choose to take up this option and cannot access tests elsewhere.

Get rapid lateral flow COVID-19 tests if you do not have symptoms.


Schools and colleges, including special schools and alternative provision and childcare and play settings will have access to rapid-result tests for staff to conduct testing at home before coming into the setting – this will help identify those who are carrying the virus without displaying symptoms, reducing the risk of transmission. 

Anyone who tests positive using a LFT:

  • must notify their setting of the LFT result and self-isolate
  • must notify other organisations as per the guidance for your sector (LAs or CIW)

They may also be contacted by the local contact tracing team.

Testing is voluntary, but those who are eligible for tests are strongly encouraged to participate to further reduce the risk of asymptomatic transmission within settings.

In accordance with the current guidance, those who develop symptoms will be able to access a test via our channels and will need to self-isolate in line with the guidance. For those who decide not to participate in the testing, they will be able to attend the workplace as usual following the current national guidelines.

From December 2020 close contacts (who are 5 years or older) of those who are identified as a confirmed case are advised to undertake lateral flow testing for 7 days. This also applies to anyone who has a positive case in their household.

A close contact is anyone who has had any of the following types of contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19:

  • face-to-face contact including being coughed on or having a conversation within 1 metre
  • skin-to-skin physical contact for any length of time
  • contact within 1 metre for one minute or longer without face-to-face contact
  • contact within 2 metres of someone for more than 15 minutes (as a one-off contact, or added up together over 1 day)
  • travelled in the same vehicle or a plane

Staff in special education needs (SEN) provision

Fully vaccinated staff working in special educational provision who are identified as a contact of someone with COVID-19 can now follow a return to work testing scheme.

Subject to a risk assessment between the member of staff and their manager, they will be asked to take a PCR test and should wait for a negative result before returning to work. They will also be asked to take lateral flow tests for 7 days from their last contact with the confirmed case.

Staff can use any tests they may have at home already. If not they can order online, collect from their pharmacy or a local collection site.

Children under 5 (0 to 4 years)

From 11 October, we will no longer recommend that children under 5 (0 to 4 years) take COVID-19 tests without symptoms. If a child under 5 has symptoms we would not routinely recommend a PCR test unless a doctor advises it, or if parents believe a test is absolutely necessary and in the best interests of their child. 

This means that we also do not recommend children under 5 should test if they are the contacts of someone who has COVID-19.

Conducting testing

The lateral flow tests that will be available to all staff, primary and secondary school students and FE learners, in all settings produce a result in 15 minutes and don’t require a laboratory to process.

Settings will be able to access the testing kits and will be provided with comprehensive guidance and instructions for use to take part in the testing offer.

Watch a short video demonstration of how to take the test.

A negative test result does not remove the risk of transmission.

In some cases, someone who has tested negative may still have the undetected disease and be infectious. It is therefore essential that everyone continues to follow good hygiene and observe social distancing measures whether or not they have been tested.

Further information and FAQs on testing in education and childcare settings can be found in the on the Schools: coronavirus guidance FAQ page.