From today, children who are identified as direct contacts will no longer have to leave their school or nursery and return only if they receive a negative PCR test.
Instead, if they do not have symptoms, they will be allowed to remain in class and take a PCR test within three days, as well as lateral-flow tests for ten days. Unless they return a positive result, they can remain at school or nursery.
The lateral-flow tests will be issued at school or nursery but will be taken at home.
And performances and events are now allowed to take place in secondary schools, and will be permitted in primary schools after the half-term if cases remain low.
The measures have been announced after the number of infections remained largely static during the first four weeks of the new school year, with the daily average number of new cases in education settings remaining in single figures.
Nearly 15,000 lateral-flow tests have been completed by secondary-school students and staff alone since the start of term, resulting in just over 20 cases.
This is in stark contrast to the final weeks of the summer term, which saw dozens of children and staff test positive, hundreds of others forced into isolation and several classes forced to close.
Announcing the changes yesterday, Children’s and Education Minister Scott Wickenden said: ‘When schools returned last month, I gave an assurance that the measures we had put in place would be reviewed within four weeks, with an aim to further relax restrictions and move closer to normality, if case numbers allowed.
‘The current process causes lost education time for students and disruption for parents and carers and businesses, as parents have to leave work at short notice to collect their children and stay at home with them until a negative PCR result is received.
‘The new process means that children identified as a direct contact will not be required to leave school or nursery immediately to take a PCR test unless they are symptomatic.’
The ten-day lateral-flow tests will also be extended to cover children in nursery or primary schools who are identified as indirect contacts. Secondary-school indirect contacts will not be required to take the tests.
Deputy Wickenden added: ‘I am also delighted to announce that school performances, which are an integral part of school life and education, giving children and young people opportunities to participate in activities such as music, dance and drama, can go ahead.
‘This will commence immediately in secondary schools and we are asking all those participating in a school production to sign up to the lateral-flow test screening programme and adhere to new guidance.
‘I will continue to monitor case numbers in primary schools and should these carry on remaining low it is my intention to enable school performances and rehearsals to commence again in primary schools after half term.’