Thousands of pupils went back to school on Monday after months of remote learning, with mass testing introduced to clamp down on any potential spread of coronavirus.
But there was confusion about when pupils in England need to isolate, after Downing Street contradicted an education minister’s advice.
The minister, Vicky Ford, said that a child who tests positive for Covid with a lateral flow test but subsequently receives a negative PCR result should still not return to school.
“They should not take the risk, we all want to make sure we can keep Covid out of the classrooms here,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
But Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson clarified that this is not the case, and that the child can actually return to school if they test positive at home, but then subsequently test negative in a lab-based PCR test which will be used to “back up and validate” the home result.
Shadow schools minister Wes Streeting said the confusion showed the Department for Education’s ministerial team was “worse than useless”.
They explained that secondary pupils are being asked to carry out three lateral flow tests under controlled conditions in their first days back in the classroom.
If a student tests positive on any of these tests, they should self-isolate.
But once these tests are complete, children will receive two lateral flow tests a week to be taken at home.
Because the results from these tests may be less accurate as they are self administered, children are then required to follow up any positive result with a more accurate PCR test, which is processed in a lab.
If the PCR result is positive, they should continue to self-isolate. But if it is negative, they can return to school, the PM’s spokesperson told reporters.
The PM’s spokesperson said: “Students returning today will receive three tests over the course of the immediate future.
“If they receive a positive lateral flow, they are required to isolate – that is for lateral flows that are taken in a controlled environment.
“Once those three tests have happened, children will receive two tests a week to be taken from home.
“If they are positive, those lateral flow tests, obviously it’s required for children to isolate.
“But for lateral flows taken at home, if somebody receives a positive test they will then receive a PCR to back up and validate the lateral flow test result.
“If that PCR comes back positive, of course children will continue to isolate.
“But if that PCR comes back negative, children will then be allowed to go back into school.”
Asked why this contradicted Ford’s comments, the spokesperson said: “If a PCR test is negative following a positive lateral flow, if the PCR is negative, children can go back to school.”
Asked if they heard Ford’s comments, they added: “I personally didn’t, I’m setting out the details of the policy.”