Q. Since we returned to school and the new rules have applied to children regarding self-isolation, we have had a couple of occasions where parents have refused to get PCR tests for children with symptoms. How do we record this absence and when can they return to school?

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A. The guidance for everyone, including school pupils, is that if they have symptoms of Covid-19 they should self-isolate until they have a PCR test. If the PCR is positive, they should isolate for 10 days from the onset of their symptoms (10 days from the test if no symptoms, for example if testing following a positive lateral flow test).

I cannot find anything in the written DfE guidance, NHS website or PHE guidance that states how long you must isolate for if you have symptoms and don’t get a PCR test. I assume this is because the aim is for people to either test, receive a negative result and get back to work/school, or test, receive a positive test result and self-isolate as above.

The DfE’s documentation Schools Covid-19 operational guidance (https://bit.ly/3zNoyBa), SEND and specialist settings: Additional Covid-19 operational guidance (https://bit.ly/3APtQN7), and Addendum: Recording attendance in relation to coronavirus (Covid-19) during the 2021 to 2022 academic year (https://bit.ly/3DQx6d9), all advise that pupils with Covid-19 symptoms must self-isolate until they have a PCR test result.

My understanding is that if a pupil has symptoms and doesn’t have a PCR test, they will need to self-isolate for 10 days, as we must work on the cautious assumption that they could be positive as this hasn’t been ruled out. We should be encouraging parents to take pupils for PCR tests.

The DfE’s Recording attendance in relation to coronavirus (Covid-19) 2021–22 guidance states that:

“In line with public health advice, pupils with symptoms must self-isolate and schools should strongly encourage pupils to take a PCR test. Where the pupil is unable to take a PCR test, the school should record the pupil as code X in the register.”

This guidance doesn’t specify a time frame/number of days for the pupil to be X coded, but this does reinforce that these pupils with Covid-19 symptoms must self-isolate. We are coming across parents who state that their child has symptoms but won’t take them for a PCR test (often due to pupil’s additional needs), but then they contact school 3–4 days later to say they no longer have symptoms and can attend. In my view this would not be appropriate as they haven’t had a PCR test to rule out Covid -19 and did have symptoms (the guidance has never stated to only self- isolate while you have symptoms).

The Schools Covid-19 operational guidance also says:

“In most cases, parents and carers will agree that a pupil or student with symptoms should not attend given the potential risk to others. If a parent or carer insists on their child attending your setting you can take the decision to refuse them if, in your reasonable judgement, it is necessary to protect others from possible infection with Covid-19. Your decision would need to be carefully considered in light of all the circumstances and current public health advice.”

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Joanne Sierzega

Joanne Sierzega worked for almost 16 years in local authority education welfare. Since then she has established CSAWS (Central School Attendance and Welfare Services Ltd) with two partners. CSAWS comprises a team of education welfare officers who are committed to achieving better outcomes for children by securing regular attendance at school.

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