College students will have four rapid Covid tests in the first two weeks of returning to the classroom from March 8, the government has said.
Three of the asymptomatic tests, which produce results in around 30 minutes, will be conducted on site while another will be conducted at home.
Colleges will then introduce twice weekly home testing thereafter for students as well as staff.
It is understood that colleges will be able to welcome back their students in a phased approach over the course of the week beginning March 8 to allow for testing of their students. If a learner tests negative then they can attend, if they test positive, they must return home to self-isolate.
Independent training providers and adult community learning providers will be able to request coronavirus tests from 31 March, but they will need to apply to the Department for Education for the amount they need.
The DfE announced the plan ahead of the prime minister Boris Johnson’s House of Commons briefing on his “roadmap” for easing lockdown restrictions.
Johnson said that all secondary school and FE students can return for face-to-face teaching from March 8.
Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes said mass testing will be “a logistical challenge”, but colleges have “used lockdown to prepare their sites and it will be a crucial element of keeping students and staff safe, alongside face coverings, social distancing, ventilation, phasing and rotas”.
Colleges are expected to retain a “small” testing site for those students unable to test at home.
Schools and colleges will receive additional testing kits for both on-site and home testing in the coming weeks, the DfE said.
Testing of close contacts in order to keep them in school is not expected to return at this time. The approach was paused last month after questions were raised about the effectiveness of lateral-flow devices.
This means that close contacts of confirmed cases will still be required to self-isolate.
Updated operational guidance for the return of all colleges students was published after Johnson’s speech and sets out the expectations for testing of students from March 8.
It states: “Colleges should offer students three tests at an on-site asymptomatic testing site, three to five days apart, upon their return from 8 March.
“Testing should start when students return but it can be phased to manage the number of students passing through the test site at any one time. Colleges have the flexibility to consider how best to deliver testing on a phased basis, depending on circumstances and local arrangements but suggest vulnerable students are prioritised.”
It adds that testing is “voluntary but encouraged”.