What happens when pupils test positive for Covid-19?

10 March 2021
What was claimed

Children should not return to school after a positive lateral flow test, even if they receive a negative follow-up PCR test result.

Our verdict

This is not what the guidance for testing states. Pupils should only have a follow-up PCR test if they get a positive lateral flow result at home. If the follow-up comes back negative they can go back to school.

“The really important thing here is to make sure we can keep schools open and minimise the risk of having Covid in the classrooms, and that is why if people have had the test that shows that they have got Covid through the lateral flow test, we should not take the risk of having that child in the classroom”

Update - Since this fact check was published, the government has changed its guidance on when pupils should be tested using a PCR test.

Previously, pupils who tested positive using a lateral flow test (LFT) at school would not require a follow-up PCR test to confirm the result.

As of 30 March, updated Department for Education guidance states that all positive results from LFTs, whether they are conducted at home or school will need to be confirmed with a PCR within two days.

A negative PCR test will override a positive lateral flow test, provided it is taken within two days of a positive LFT result.

The rest of this article reflects what the situation was when originally published on 10 March. 


As schools reopen this week, there has been some confusion about what parents should do if their children test positive for Covid-19.  

As stated in government guidance, pupils returning to school should all receive two Covid-19 tests each week. For the first three tests, pupils will be tested using a lateral flow device at their school or college and under supervision.

They will also be given lateral flow device kits for testing at home, which should continue to be done twice weekly.

Confusion arose, when children’s minister Vicky Ford said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme  this week said any child with a positive lateral flow result should self-isolate with their families, even if a non-rapid PCR test comes back negative later. This was reported by a number of newspapers, before the government clarified that this was not accurate.

The Department of Education (DfE) has since published a blog to clarify the guidance.  

It says that in all circumstances where a pupil tests positive for Covid-19 they should isolate in line with public health guidance.

Whether they then require a follow-up PCR test depends on where they were tested.

If the pupil was tested under supervision on site (e.g. at a school or college), the DfE said there is only a “minimal” chance the result could be incorrect. This means there is no need for further tests to confirm the result.

At home, the DfE said that while there is only a “very small” chance the result could be wrong, there is a “slightly” higher chance of it being administered incorrectly. Therefore, because of this risk, if a child tests positive at home using a lateral flow device, parents or caregivers should report the result and arrange for a PCR test to confirm.

If the PCR test is negative, they can then return to school.

We’ve written before about the reliability of lateral flow and PCR testing testing.  

Update 1 April 2021

An update to this article was made to reflect new government guidance.

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