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A school that has tried a radical Covid test regime has saved more than 500 students and staff from isolating themselves at home, its school principal announced.
Westhoughton High School in Bolton allows even “close contacts” with positive cases to continue to attend classes, provided they have negative daily lateral flow tests and negative PCR tests every five days.
Headmaster Patrick Ottley-O’Connor told the BBC that there had been a “massive” positive impact on students’ mental health as well as their ability to learn in person.
The school, which ended its government pilot last Thursday, reported more than 3,500 “study days saved” thanks to its system that allows students to participate even if they were in the same class as someone who tested positive.
During the clinical trial, only those employees and students who tested positive need to stay at home.
Others in their 30-person “bladder” may continue to participate, with parental consent, as long as they have a negative lateral flow test for seven days.
On the second and seventh day, they also have to show a negative PCR test. The participating students have to stay at home in the evenings and on weekends.
The success of the program is sure to be pounded by MPs and parents, many of whom are now calling for a more risk-based approach and the end of the practice of quarantining an entire class when a child becomes infected with the virus.
Recent figures showed that student absenteeism due to Covid had reached a record high since classes returned in March, with more than 330,000 children in England forced to isolate at home in the past week.
Department of Education data covering England shows that about 1 in 20 (5.1%) state students failed to attend class on June 24 for Covid-19-related reasons, up from 3.3% on June 17 and May 1 , 2% on June 10.
Health Minister Sajid Javid announced on Monday that he had requested the evidence from pilot projects.
Ottley-O’Connor told BBC Radio 4’s World at One program, “When we had the opportunity to participate in the clinical trial, we jumped right into it”.
“Of course it helped the learning a lot, but the mental health of the students was massively positive because they can stay in school.
“Two weeks ago there were increasing cases in Bolton, I had two positive cases within the staff and that affected a total of 18 employees in close contact, myself included.
“But only these two people had to be at home, the rest of us could come and do our daily tests in the morning …[and] Test negative and continue our daily work. “
Shadowing Secretary Kate Green said the latest absence numbers showed the need for action.
“Ministers now need to work with their scientific advisors to check the bladder system before the summer break to ensure that as many children as possible can be in the classroom.”