Since schools returned for the new academic year large numbers of COVID-19 cases have been reported to schools, with very large numbers of children being identified as close contacts. This has caused disruption in schools, many children missing school and pressure on school leaders.

To address this, the Ministers of Education and Health have issued revised arrangements for the identification of close contacts in schools.

These arrangements will help healthy pupils miss as little time in school as possible, to improve their education, mental health and wellbeing, and life chances generally.

You can view the revised arrangements here.

This more targeted approach will involve PHA contact tracing service identifying and asking the very closest contacts – for example very close friends - to isolate and get a test.

Other contacts in school – such as those in the same class or who sit near the case – will not routinely be asked to isolate and book a test.

The Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Michael McBride has written a letter to parents, pupils and the school community to explain the reasoning behind the new approach to contact tracing in schools.

You can view this letter here.

What this means for schools

School leaders will no longer be required to respond to every COVID-19 case and identify contacts. Instead, the Public Health Agency Contact Tracing Service will undertake a more targeted approach and will only contact the school principal for assistance in certain circumstances, such as to obtain parent or staff contact information. This will help reduce the potential for large numbers of pupils being required to self-isolate and also reduce the amount of time spent by schools contact tracing.

Advice to schools regarding the revised arrangements is available here.

What this means for parents

Parents of children who test positive for COVID-19 are asked to contact their school as they would for any absence.

Parents can help by familiarising themselves with the process - if their child tests positive for COVID-19 expect to be contacted by the Public Health Agency Contact Tracing Service, recognise our number (028 9536 8888) by adding it to your phone’s contacts, and please answer when we do call.

Close contacts of the positive case (or their parent/guardian if under the age of 16) will be contacted by the Public Health Agency Contact Tracing Service by phone or text, advised they have been identified as a close contact and directed to advice on self-isolation and testing.

Parents should be aware of the steps we should all be taking to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in school and beyond.