Antigen testing in schools – department publishes details of the scheme

The Department of Education has today set out how the new antigen testing scheme will operate in primary schools, with the scheme expected to launch in schools on or before the 29th of November.

Free antigen tests will be made available to the children in a primary school pod, where a child in the pod has had a PCR test that detected COVID-19. Where two or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 occur in a class, within a seven-day period, outside of a single pod, antigen testing will be offered to the full class.

The Department has confirmed that the tests will be sent to the children’s parents by the HSE.

Furthermore, according to the information set out this afternoon, parents/guardians of a primary school child, who has been confirmed as having COVID-19 following a PCR test, are asked to inform their school’s principal. The school principal will then inform the parents of other children in the pod of a confirmed case. No personal details of the child will be shared. These parents will be provided with the option to receive free antigen tests for their child, which they will be able to order for delivery to their home.

If a child displays any symptoms of COVID-19 they should self-isolate immediately and a parent or guardian should arrange a PCR test.

School principals will not be required to gather evidence of participation or of antigen test results.

Responding to the publication of details of the new antigen testing scheme for primary schools, INTO General Secretary John Boyle said:

INTO will be looking closely at the detail of the antigen testing measures announced by Minister Foley this afternoon, which are expected to see the rollout of antigen testing in certain circumstances in schools, on or before 29 November.

For eight months the government has procrastinated and failed to implement the recommendations of an expert group who proposed a pilot antigen study in primary schools. As a union, we have been campaigning for the introduction of antigen testing since the premature withdrawal of testing and contact tracing from primary schools in September of this year.

It is imperative any new scheme is properly resourced and kept under review. Infection levels are rising in our schools and the wider community at an alarming rate. Swift deployment, clear guidance and a full suite of supports for schools will be essential if this measure is to have the necessary impact on our schools. Once again, we call on the  government to launch an effective national public awareness campaign designed to stop those who are symptomatic from attending our schools.

It is frustrating that teachers are not clearly referenced in the information shared with schools today and we will be seeking more clarity on that from the Department of Education and Public Health.”