'Children will NEVER be forced to take a Covid test,' says deputy CMO

‘Children will NEVER be forced to take a Covid test’: Government advisor says pupils have a ‘right to education’ and should ‘always be allowed to come to school’ – after some concerned parents REFUSED to let youngsters get tested

  • Pupils returned to schools today for the first time since January due to pandemic
  • Schools are trying to keep tabs on Covid-19 infection rates by testing students 
  • But up to a quarter of parents at some schools have failed to give their consent  
  • England’s deputy chief medical officer says tests are entirely optional for pupils

England’s deputy chief medical officer has assured parents that pupils will never be forced to take a Covid-19 test amid concerns that some refused to let their children be checked.

Hundreds of primary and secondary schools reopened today for the first time since January, when rising infection rates prompted England’s third national lockdown.

All secondary pupils are to be regularly tested – which involves swabbing the nose and throat – to try to avoid schools becoming so-called ‘vectors of transmission’. 

But figures released ahead of today’s return showed around a third of parents had failed to fill out consent forms for their children to be tested.

One head teacher in Halifax has said only a quarter of parents had agreed for their children to be tested, while in Tower Hamlets, East London, a school has reported that the ‘vast majority’ have opted out. 

Parents accused one school in Hornchurch, Havering, of ‘coercion bordering on blackmail,’ after a letter from the headteacher said pupils would not return for face-to-face lessons if they did not provide a testing consent form. 

Today Dr Jenny Harries said testing would never be compulsory for schoolchildren.

Dr Jenny Harries, England’s deputy chief medical officer, today insisted Covid-19 tests at schools are not compulsory, amid concerns that up to a quarter of parents refused to let their children be checked for the virus

Dr Jenny Harries, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said it will ‘take time’ for families to get used to testing children for coronavirus before going to school.

She said: ‘Children should always be allowed to come into school and it is their right to have an education and it is important for their long-term health and actually their future families’ health.

‘I do recognise that for many parents it is quite an unusual ask – before children go off to school to do a swab and a test. It will take time, I think, for families to get used to that.’  

And mask critics, including parents and MPs, say the rules will impact students’ learning. Ministers have vowed to revisit the face covering policy at the end of this month. 

Pupils returning to the classroom today received Covid-19 tests, with the consent of their parents, but some have complained after some schools said students would stay at home if their parents did not agree to testing 

All secondary pupils are to be regularly tested – which involves swabbing the nose and throat – to try to avoid schools becoming ‘vectors of transmission’

Dr Harries’ comments came after The Telegraph revealed Hornchurch High School would not be letting students return without a consent form to be tested.

One parent, who was not named, said: ‘The salient point was if you do not provide consent, you will not be allowed to take part in normal lessons.

‘This is coercion bordering on blackmail. I have printed off the Government guidance and it very clearly says it should be voluntary.’ 

Jo Tunnicliffe, headteacher at North Kesteven Academy in Lincolnshire, said up to a quarter of parents had not returned the test consent forms. 

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme last week, she said: ‘There are some families who haven’t given consent for those tests carried out.

‘So we just don’t know at the moment in terms of how that will pan out and what transmission will look like both in school and the community.

‘My estimation is about a quarter or a third of students will probably not have the test, or some of them haven’t had a test at all at the moment – they don’t really know what that looks like.

‘So when they come into school it’s going to take a little while, I think, to get them reassured to have the test – those that are consenting. 

‘Of course that’s up to us to try and help them to feel calm enough to have those tests, because, let’s be honest, they’re not particularly pleasant and they’re not particularly easy to administer.

Other parents have raised concerns online ahead of the return to school, with one asking if they could sue their school if a child is tested without consent.

They wrote: ‘I think if we’re withdrawing testing consent for our kids it’s should be officially in writing but the school forms don’t have a box to withdraw. School trip blood transfusions req parent consent but not covid test?? How do we make it Official?? 

‘Can you sue if they do test?’ 

Some parents have asked if they can sue their school if their children are tested, as lawyers offer to contact schools to voice parents concerns 

Civil rights group Lawyers for Liberty has offered to send anonymous letters from parents to headteachers, asking for children not to be compulsory.

A statement on its website reads: ‘Although the UK Government only recommends face masks and testing in schools, many heads have opted to make these mandatory. If your child’s school has a mandatory mask and/or testing policy and you are concerned, we can help. 

Speaking at today’s coronavirus press briefing, Dr Harries said children would never be forced to have a test but that parents should ask if they are concerned about it.

Earlier, Professor Calum Semple, an expert in child health and outbreak medicine at Liverpool University, warned schools reopening and social contacts increasing meant it was ‘inevitable that we will see a rise in cases’ but added that people shouldn’t panic. 

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