1. How to take part

To take part, you will need to complete an online consent and a registration questionnaire. Once this is submitted, you (pupil in year 12 and 13) or your child will be enrolled into the study.

The URL of the webpage on which you consent and register is included in your letter.

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2. About the study

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is having a major impact across the UK.

We are inviting a sample of schools in England to take part in testing for antibodies to COVID-19. We need to find out how many school pupils have developed antibodies against the virus and how this changes over the course of the academic year. The information we collect will help inform policies to protect school pupils and staff.

We are now looking beyond COVID-19 transmission in schools and want to inform policies to aid school recovery.

Visits to the schools and testing will be organised and undertaken by study workers from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Only the people involved in running the study will use information about participants for this study; they will not pass it on to anyone who is not involved in the study.

This study is voluntary. Schools and pupils do not have to take part and can withdraw at any round of testing. If some tests have already been completed when they change their mind, we will still use the data from them unless individuals concerned tell us not to. This is because it is very important for our study to get a good picture of who has had COVID-19.

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3. How does SIS2 differ from SIS1?

Schools Infection Survey 1 (SIS1) was initially set up during the 2020 to 2021 academic year to detect both current infection and antibodies in pupils and staff to better understand the transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19) in school settings. Schools Infection Survey 2 (SIS2) will monitor levels of antibodies in pupils only.

This study will help us to inform policies to help pupils and their education going forward. As well as providing participants with their results, we will produce a report following each round of testing and publish it on the Office for National Statistics (ONS) website. Any data presented by ONS will not identify any individuals or schools. The results of this study may also be presented at academic meetings and may be published in medical journals in a de-identified manner.

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4. What is an antibody?

Antibodies are one of the ways that your body fights an infection. It takes between two and three weeks for your body to make enough of them to fight the infection. When you get better, they still stay in your blood at low levels – this is what helps you not get the same infection again.

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5. Who is carrying out the study?

The study is being conducted by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), in partnership with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the Immunisation Department at the UKHSA, working with the Department for Education. It is funded by the Department for Health and Social Care.

  • The ONS will be responsible for arranging appointments with the schools and carrying out the tests for antibodies.
  • Scientists at the UKHSA or affiliated laboratories will be responsible for storing and processing the oral fluid (saliva) samples that will be collected from pupils; they will create the antibody data for the ONS to analyse.
  • The ONS and the UKHSA will analyse the data that have been processed by the National Biosample Centre.
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6. Why should I take part?

This study will allow scientists to understand who has been infected with the coronavirus (COVID-19). Taking part will help us to understand how better to manage the pandemic in school settings, and will help to inform policies to help children and their education going forward. It is possible that some pupils might have caught the virus previously and didn’t develop symptoms therefore are unaware they have antibodies.

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7. How have I been selected?

Your primary or secondary school head teacher has agreed for the school to take part in the study.

There are 180 schools participating in this study.

In selected schools, we are offering enrolment to all pupils.

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8. Do I have to take part?

Your participation is entirely voluntary, and you may withdraw at any time without providing a reason and without penalty. Parents or carers may also withdraw their child from the study at any time without giving a reason.

This is your chance to be involved in a unique study that will help scientists work out how many school pupils have already been infected with the coronavirus (COVID-19). If you are still not convinced, you do not have to take part if you do not want to.

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9. Who can take part?

All pupils from primary and secondary schools participating in the study are eligible. Unfortunately we are not able to offer testing to children in pre-school or nursery years.

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10. What happens if I decide to take part?

If you would like to take part, go to the website on the invite letter and complete the online consent form and enrolment questionnaire and submit to be enrolled onto the study.

Unfortunately, we are not able to offer testing to children in pre-school or nursery years, so if you have multiple children in selected school, please only register those who are in reception or above.

When the study team visits the school you or your child will be included in the testing on the day. The reason for sending someone from the study to your school is so that you do not have to travel to a health centre or another location. Everyone working for the study has received appropriate training.

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11. What happens at the testing in schools?

A study team coordinated by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) will visit your school. The study team will consist of a team lead and two study workers who will have made the necessary arrangements with your school in advance. The study workers will follow recommended government guidelines.

Oral fluid (saliva) samples will be collected, and children can take the sample themselves. The study workers will play a video to show every pupil how to take the oral fluid (saliva) sample. This involves putting a small sponge into the mouth for two minutes to test for antibodies against coronavirus (COVID-19).

The Study team will check the children are willing to take part before testing starts on the day. If your child shows signs of distress at the time of testing, they will then be offered the option of withdrawing from the test at that time.

Around the same time as testing, you will be asked to complete a questionnaire online. Children of secondary school age will also be invited to complete a questionnaire online. An invitation will be sent to you, and we will also contact your child directly by email/text if you provide their contact details and are happy for us to do so.

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12. Will I be followed up?

A team of study workers will visit your child’s school once before Christmas 2021 and then twice more before Easter 2022. Future visits will be very similar to the initial round of testing described in Section 11.

Your child’s school will inform you in advance of the dates of each appointment as soon as it is agreed with the school.

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13. How long will it take?

The consent form and enrolment questionnaire should take less than 10 minutes to complete.

The testing will be carried out during school time. The oral fluid (saliva) sample involves putting a small sponge into the mouth for two minutes.

The online follow up questionnaire that is sent out will take approximately 20 to 30 minutes.

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14. Do I need to prepare anything before the testing in schools?

Once enrolled online, there is nothing else for you to do. The study team will bring all necessary equipment with them to the school for the appointment.

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15. What will you do with the results?

We will notify all participants of their results as soon as possible. More information about this is provided under sections 16 and 23. Once we have collected results from all of the schools taking part in the study, we will produce statistics about the number of school pupils that have previously been infected by the virus over the course of the academic year.

The analysis from this study will inform policies to help us work out the best way to manage the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and aid children and their education in the recovery following the pandemic. We will produce a report following each round of testing and publish it on the Office for National Statistics (ONS) website. Any data presented by ONS will not identify any individuals or schools. The results of this study may also be presented at academic meetings and may be published in medical journals in a de-identified manner.

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16. Can I have a letter of confirmation of the results?

We do not provide a separate confirmation letter of the results.

Antibody test results will be sent to participants (parents or pupils) by email or SMS, depending on the contact details provided when registering for the study.

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17. What if I or someone in my home has coronavirus (COVID-19) or COVID-19 symptoms?

If anyone in your household is experiencing symptoms of the coronavirus (COVID-19), self-isolating, or shielding on the day of testing, you will not be able to attend the school to take part. If you are absent from school when we carry out testing you will still be eligible to take part in later rounds of testing.

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18. I currently have confirmed or suspected coronavirus (COVID-19) so do not want to take part, can I take part in the future?

Yes, you can still take part in future rounds of testing. A separate invite will be sent to you before the next appointment for testing at the school.

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19. Have the study workers been tested for coronavirus (COVID-19)?

During school testing periods, all study workers will undergo regular testing for the coronavirus (COVID-19) before visiting the schools. However, it is important to know that people can become infected even after a negative test. All study workers will therefore follow the NHS recommendations about the appropriate level of protective clothing to wear. The children will be supervised by school staff at all times.

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20. What will you do with my oral fluid (saliva) sample?

The oral fluid (saliva) samples will be processed by scientists at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) or affiliated laboratories which will receive anonymous data regarding participants. They will look for the levels of antibodies against coronavirus (COVID-19). We will send the result of this test to you. The processing time is generally long for antibody tests.

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21. How long will you keep my oral fluid (saliva) sample?

With your permission, after the study the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) would like to store any remaining oral fluid samples so that they may be used in the future for research on infections caused by viruses. The samples will be stored anonymously, and it will not be possible to link the sample back to you/your child. Your child can still take part even if you ask us to have the samples destroyed after the tests are complete.

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22. What if I change my mind during the study?

Your participation is entirely voluntary. You have the right to withdraw from the study at any time without explanation. This includes after you have enrolled onto the study online and before the testing and if you have already given an oral fluid (saliva) sample.

If you decide to withdraw from the survey, telephone the Office for National Statistics helpline on +44 808 196 1270. A contact email is available for those who are unable to telephone, for example because of a hearing or speech impairment. Email Covid-19@ons.gov.uk and enter "Withdraw" in the subject of the email.

If the tests have already been done when you change your mind, we will still use the data from them, unless individuals concerned tell us not to, because they are very important for our study to get a good picture of who has had the coronavirus (COVID-19) across the UK.

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23. Can I find out my results?

All antibody (oral fluid) test results will be available to you.

The processing time for antibody tests is typically months and the results will be made available as soon as possible.

Test results from samples collected in round one (carried out in November and December 2021) of the study have been sent via email or SMS between 9 and 18 February 2022.

Test results from samples collected in round two (carried out in January and February 2022) will be sent out soon.

Please check the email junk folder if you have not seen the email with test results before contacting us.

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24. What does my coronavirus (COVID-19) antibody test result mean?

A positive antibody test means that you have been exposed to coronavirus (COVID-19) at some point in the past or have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and developed antibodies against the virus. Antibodies develop after past infection, vaccination or both. We do not know what level of antibodies might be needed to prevent further infections, so a positive antibody test does not necessarily mean that you are protected against the virus or any new variants in the future. This is one of the reasons we are visiting the same people lots of times in the survey.

Whatever your test result, if you develop COVID-19 symptoms now or in the future, it is very important that you follow the current guidance, particularly around the isolation period for you and your household. Do not wait for the results of any tests done in this survey. Your GP has not been informed of your result.

As with all laboratory tests, the tests done in this study are not perfect, so both false-positive results and false-negative results are possible. A false-positive result occurs when a test suggests someone has antibodies against the virus when in fact they do not. A false-negative result occurs when a test suggests someone does not have antibodies against the virus when in fact they do.

A 'not determined (test failure)' result means that the laboratory was unable to determine whether the sample was positive or negative for antibodies or the sample was not processed. Some of the reasons for a 'not determined (test failure)' could be due to one of the following:

  • too much oral fluid sample collected (>2ml)

  • not enough oral fluid sample collected (<0.5ml)

  • sponge head separated from the stick

  • spoilt sample received

Even if you know you have had the virus, you have antibodies, or you have been vaccinated, the only way to reduce the risk of becoming ill, or passing the disease on to others, is to follow the latest government advice on controlling the spread of the virus.

Similarly, antibody levels can also fall after having had the infection, so it is possible to test positive for the antibodies and then test negative afterwards. Being negative for antibodies does not mean that someone has not had COVID-19 in the past. Also, it takes a few weeks for antibodies to develop after vaccination, so some people may have a negative antibody result in the first few weeks after their first dose of the vaccine.

Finally, antibodies are only part of the way that our bodies fight infection. There are other parts of the immune system, for example, cells called T-cells, that also fight infection, but we are not measuring these in the survey. So those without a detectable antibody response may still be protected against getting COVID-19. This is also the case if you have previously tested positive for antibodies and now test negative; even if your antibody levels have dropped, these other parts of the immune system may still be protecting you. One of the reasons we are doing the survey is to work this out.

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25. Can I get another test as I don’t believe that the result is correct?

We cannot test you and/or your child again as part of the study until the next round of testing. If you or your child tested negative but experience coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms, you and/or your child can get a free NHS test.

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26. What other information is collected?

As part of the online questionnaire we will ask you about your child and their health, in the pupil questionnaire we ask your child about their general health and wellbeing, if they have had coronavirus (COVID-19) and their opinions of COVID-19 vaccinations.

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27. Can I get a test for my family?

We are not offering testing to coronavirus antibodies for family members of participants.

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28. How else will you use my data?

We will need to collect some personal information, including names, dates of birth, contact details and health information for your child and other household members. We need this information to understand the results of the tests that we perform and to contact you to give you the results.

If your child is in secondary school, we will ask you to provide the email address and or mobile phone number of your child so we can contact them directly and invite them to complete the questionnaire.

We will keep all the information securely in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act 2018. The reports produced will not identify you, your child or anyone in your household.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has the statutory objective to promote and safeguard the production of official statistics that serve the public good. In order for us to produce statistics we may link your data we obtain from this study to other survey and administrative data that we hold. We intend to link the information we collect from the Schools Infection Survey to other data sources that can inform us about the impact of the pandemic on schools and young people. For example, we may link data to test and trace records, hospital episode statistics, school absence data and relevant information from the 2021 Census. Data linkage is a method of bringing information from different sources together, about the same individual. For this study data linkage will help us better understand the effects of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Further information on what we use data for is available. Ethical approval for this study has been granted by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) Research and Public Health Practice Ethics and Governance Group, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) Research Ethics Committee and the National Statisticians Data Ethics Advisory Committee. All our uses of data comply with UK Statistics Authority's ethical framework. Further information on the ethical framework is available. This means that only people who will need to know who you are to deliver the study will be able to access personal information.

The ONS will continue to hold your data collected from this study for as long as it remains useful for statistical research and production. During the study, the ONS will follow a de-identification process, which is used to prevent someone’s personal identity from being revealed or identified. As such the ONS may provide access to accredited researchers, via accredited processing environments, where it is lawful and ethical to do so. When making this de-identified data available we may link the data we obtain through this study with other survey and administrative data that we hold. Access will only be provided to support valuable new research insights about UK society and the economy that are considered to be in the public good. We need to manage your information in specific ways for research to be reliable. This may mean that we won’t be able to let you see or change the data we hold about you. We will keep all information about you safe and secure.

ONS and UKHSA are joint data controllers for this study. This means that ONS are collecting and using the data, and some personal data including those listed above will be shared with UKHSA to deliver the study and conduct the antibody testing on anonymised samples. UKHSA data retention period is eight years, but please contact data_protection@dhsc.gov.uk if you have any questions or concerns about this. LSHTM and the Department for Education (DfE), whilst part of the study, will not see any personal data. But they will access the de-identified data through secure environments as explained above.

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29. What else should I consider?

Taking part will not affect the medical care you receive, and there is no effect on any regular medication or other prescribed or over the counter medicines you might be taking. It is also fine to take part if you are involved in other research studies.

Participation will also not affect the education your child receives.

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30. Has this project been ethically reviewed?

Yes, the study has received the required ethical approval by the relevant research ethics committees. This includes ethical approval from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) Research and Public Health Practice Ethics and Governance Group, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) Research Ethics Committee and the National Statistician Data Ethics Advisory Committee.

All our uses of data will comply with UK Statistics Authority’s ethical framework. This means that only people who will need to know who you are to deliver the study will be able to access personal information.

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31. Confidentiality, data protection, cookies, and accessibility

If you have a question about how the Office for National Statistics (ONS) processes your personal data or want to find out more about your rights under data protection legislation, please see the ONS' data protection page.

All personal data collected as part of this study will be processed in accordance with the Data Protection Act 2018.

We take our responsibilities to keep your personal information secure very seriously. As such, we take every reasonable precaution to ensure your information is protected from loss, theft or misuse. These precautions include appropriate physical security of our offices, controlled access to computer systems and use of secure, encrypted internet connections when collecting personal information.

The ONS and UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) are joint Data Controllers for this study. This means that ONS are collecting and using the data, and some personal data will be shared with UKHSA to deliver study and conduct the antibody testing on anonymised samples. UKHSA data retention period is eight years, if you have any concerns please see the following UKHSA data protection webpage or contact data_protection@dhsc.gov.uk.

London Schools of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Department for Education (DfE), whilst part of the study, will not see any personal data. They will access the de-identified data through secure environments.

Data protection regulation requires that we state the legal basis for processing information about you. In the case of the research, the ONS is processing this information as it is necessary for us to perform our official function, which is to produce statistics for the public good. Your information will be treated as confidential as directed by the Code of Practice for Statistics. It will only be held for as long as it is being used for producing statistics. Study information may be provided to other approved organisations or researchers for statistical purposes only.

With your permission, after the study UKHSA would like to store any remaining oral fluid samples so that they may be used in future research on infections caused by viruses.

For more information related to the School Infection Survey's privacy policy, cookies, and accessibility, please see the Privacy, Cookies, and Accessibility Information page.

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32. Further help

If you have any further questions on the COVID-19 Schools Infection Survey 2 (SIS2), you can telephone the Office for National Statistics helpline on 0808 196 1270 or email Covid-19@ons.gov.uk.

Further information relating to the School Infection Survey can be found in the following information sheets:

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34. Sharing data with others

We sometimes share selected information with our service providers to help us run our studies. We only share the personal details they need to know.

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