School leaders have been told to order more packs of Covid lateral flow tests by 5pm today or face a two-week wait for supplies.
Secondary schools have been asked to test returning pupils once on-site before asking them to test twice-weekly at home. Staff have also been asked to test at home twice a week.
Leaders were invited to order tests before Christmas, and were due to receive those orders before pupils return this week.
Schools that run out can still order more through an online ordering system – but have been given a tight deadline if they want to receive supplies by next week.
In an email to headteachers today, seen by Schools Week, the DfE said orders for test kits received by 5pm today “will be scheduled for delivery during next week”. However orders placed after 5pm “will be delivered the following week”, starting Monday January 17.
It comes amid a national shortage of lateral-flow tests. Members of the public trying to order test kits for home delivery are frequently told there are none available, and there are reports of pharmacies running out.
The shortage is in part down to a change in government guidance last month which means those with confirmed cases of Covid can end their isolation earlier than the previous 10-day period with negative lateral-flow testing.
A DfE spokesperson said the ordering system for lateral-flow tests was “not a new process”, and “works on the basis the orders placed by 5pm each Tuesday are delivered the following week”.
“The purpose of the text in the bulletin…was to remind schools of this and isn’t anything new. We were seeking to avoid, where possible, orders being placed later this week which won’t then arrive until week commencing January 17.”
The department told leaders at the weekend that it was working “closely” with the UK Health Security Agency to ensure schools receive “adequate supplies” of test kits.
Settings needing further advice or support have been told to call 119. Updated guidance to support asymptomatic testing is available on the government’s document sharing platform.
DfE clarifies guidance on ending isolation early
The email to headteachers today has also clarified the rules on returning to education settings following periods of isolation.
The last email to leaders, sent on Sunday, stated that those who tested positive on a PCR test but who tested negative on lateral-flow tests on days six and seven of their isolation period could “return to your education setting from day 8”.
But today’s email states that in fact, if both tests are negative and an individual does not have a high temperature, they may end their self-isolation after the second negative test result and return to their education setting “from day 7”.