Written by Professor Denis Kinane, leading immunologist and founding scientist at Cignpost Diagnostics

Ian Allenden / Alamy Stock Photo

Ian Allenden / Alamy Stock Photo

This Summer will see a return to in-person exams for the first time since before the start of the pandemic.

Year in, year out, exam season proves to be one of the most stressful times of the year. But, for many students, this year will have added pressure. It is not only the first time many students have sat an external exam, but also the first time in several years they have sat an in-person test. There are also worries about whether there will be enough invigilators if they are affected by COVID in the coming months.

This, combined with education disruptions and the soaring numbers of Covid-related absences means the looming exams are, understandably, a worrying prospect for many students.

As case figures remain high, Covid-19 is set to continue to play its part in whether teens can indeed take exams in person and in accordance with rules.

Professor Denis Kinane, leading immunologist and founding scientist at Cignpost Diagnostics has shared his top tips on how to keep students Covid free this exam season.

How can parents keep students safe ahead of exam season?

It is no longer mandatory by law in the UK to test for COVID or even self isolate if you are infected. But you can help keep yourself and your children safe by continuing to practice the following in the weeks leading up to exams

· Wearing face masks in indoor spaces or on public transport, to stop the spread of airborne germs

· Keeping windows open to facilitate the circulation of fresh air

· Regular handwashing (or using hand sanitiser)

· Social distancing (as far as possible)

· Gather socially outside rather than indoors

When should children be testing?

Unfortunately, the end of free Covid testing means the likelihood of disruption due to illness during the exam period is high, as students may unwittingly transmit the illness to peers, teachers and exam invigilators.

Where possible, students should take a lateral flow test if they are showing any symptoms of Covid-19, including a high temperature or shivering, a new, continuous cough, a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste, and more.

While testing and self-isolation is no longer mandatory for those with a positive result, Cignpost is committed to keep testing as affordable as possible for those who want the certainty of an in-person test, whether or not you are showing symptoms.

What are the rules around self-isolation?

Current UKHSA guidance advises that, upon receiving a positive test result, individuals should stay at home and avoid contact with others for three days (if 18 and under) or five days (if 19 or older) after the day you took the test. However, data suggests that the latest Covid variant – the Omicron XE strain - remains infectious for up to ten days.

Meanwhile, the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) has told schools to advise pupils under 18 years old who are unwell and have a high temperature to stay at home, but that students can return to the exam hall “when they no longer have a high temperature”.

The exact rules are unclear and, without free testing, it is inevitable that there will be difficulties for many students, parents and teachers alike. However as always, I would recommend that any individual who tests positive should isolate at home where possible, particularly staying away from those who are vulnerable.

According to the Department for Education, “exams have been spaced by a minimum of ten days between the first and last exam in any subject, to reduce the chance of students missing all exams in a subject because of illness.”

Moreover, the JCQ has also stated that anyone following UKHSA Covid guidance will be taken as an acceptable reason to miss an exam, and that students who are absent due to Covid-related illness will be eligible to receive “special consideration”. If your son or daughter is unlucky enough to get COVID, you should contact the school immediately to discuss what steps can be taken to ensure the exam can be taken later or other alternative arrangements.

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