1. How to take part

To take part, you will need to complete an online consent and an enrolment questionnaire. Once this is submitted, you (student 16 years or over or school staff) or your child will be enrolled into the study.

The url of the webpage on which you consent and enrol 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 coronavirus (COVID-19).

We need to assess the role of schools in coronavirus (COVID-19) transmission and how transmission within and from school settings can be minimised.

This study will find out how many school pupils and staff have had the COVID-19 infection, how many have already developed antibodies against the virus and how this changes over the course of the school year. The information we collect will help inform policies to protect school pupils and staff.

It is possible that some pupils and staff might be infected with the virus and not develop any symptoms.

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3. What is an antibody?

Antibodies are one way 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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4. Who is carrying out the study?

The study is being conducted by Public Health England (PHE) in partnership with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. We are working with the Department for Education and it is funded by the Department for Health and Social Care.

  • IQVIA will be responsible for arranging appointments with the schools and carrying out the tests for viral infection and antibodies.
  • The National Biosample Centre are responsible for storing and processing the nose swabs which will be collected from pupils and staff; they will create the virus data for the ONS to analyse.
  • Scientists at PHE Colindale will be responsible for storing and processing the oral fluid (saliva) samples which will be collected from pupils; they will create the antibody data for the ONS to analyse.
  • Scientists at Thriva will be responsible for processing the finger prick blood test, which will be collected from staff; they will create the antibody data for the ONS to analyse.
  • The ONS and Public Health England will analyse the data that has been processed by the National Biosample Centre.
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5. Why should I take part?

This study will allow scientists to understand who is and has been infected with the coronavirus (COVID-19), even if the people infected have not realised it at the time. It is possible that some pupils and staff might be infected with the virus and not develop symptoms.

This will help assess the role of schools in the coronavirus (COVID-19) transmission and how transmission within and from school settings can be minimised.

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6. 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 150 schools (50 primary and 100 secondary schools) participating in this study.

In selected primary schools, where the average enrolment is 280 pupils, we will offer enrolment to:

  • all eligible pupils
  • all staff

In selected secondary schools, where the average enrolment is 990 pupils, we will only offer enrolment to

  • all eligible pupils (excluding year 11) in two consecutive year groups (approximately 250 pupils)
  • all staff
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7. 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 and staff 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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8. Who can take part?

All school staff from primary and secondary schools participating in the study are eligible. All pupils from primary schools participating in the study are eligible. Pupils from two consecutive years chosen from secondary schools participating in the study are eligible.

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9. 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 consent form and enrolment questionnaire and submit to be enrolled onto the study.

When the study team visits the school your 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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10. What happens at the testing in schools?

A study team will visit your school. The team will consist of five study workers and a School Liaison Officer who will have made the necessary arrangements with your school in advance. For primary schools, a registered nurse will also be part of the team. The study workers will use all the recommended precautions to protect you and other people in your school from getting the virus.

Nasal swabs will be taken from pupils and staff. The study worker will show you how to take a swab from your nose. This involves rubbing a soft cotton bud on the inside of your nostril to test for the virus. Pupils aged 12 years or over can take the swab themselves or the study staff will help. In primary schools, the nurse will take swabs from pupils. (Please note, this is not the nasopharyngeal swab that takes a sample from deep into the back of the nose).

Oral fluid (saliva) samples will only be collected from children. 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 the virus and antibodies against the virus.

Finger prick blood tests will only be collected from school staff. These tests will be self-administered on site at the school and instructions will be provided. These also test for the virus and antibodies against the virus.

After testing, you will be asked to complete a follow up questionnaire online. An invitation will be sent to you within a few days after the tests have been collected.

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11. Will I be followed up?

Yes, after the first visit in the school we plan to arrange five more appointments, one at the end of Autumn term and two in each of the remaining two terms in the 2020 to 2021 school year. These will be very similar to the initial round of testing described in Section 10.

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12. 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 nasal swab will take a few seconds, oral fluid (saliva) sample involves chewing on a sponge for two minutes (pupils only) and the blood test involving a finger prick will take a few seconds.

The online follow up questionnaire that is sent out after samples have been collected will take approximately 20 to 30 minutes.

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

Once you have 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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14. 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 Question 18. 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 and staff that have the coronavirus (COVID-19) or have previously been infected by the virus over the course of the school year.

The analysis from this study will help us work out the best way to manage the COVID-19 pandemic and minimise transmission in schools. 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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15. What if I or someone in my home has coronavirus (COVID-19) or coronavirus (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. You will still be eligible to take part in later rounds of testing (from December 2020 onwards).

As part of later rounds of testing we are considering options for offering tests to pupils and staff that are unable to attend school on the days that testing is scheduled. However, there is currently no provision to test pupils or staff outside of school in the first round of testing in November.

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

All study workers attending are offered routine tests 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 personal protective equipment (PPE) to use.

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18. What will you do with my nose swab and oral fluid (saliva) sample or blood sample?

Your nose swab will be tested at one of the national testing centres using the standard test to find out if someone currently has the coronavirus (COVID-19), even if they do not have symptoms. Every attempt will be made to report any positive swab results to individuals and schools as quickly as possible, ideally within 48 hours so that the individual and household members can self-isolate and school can take appropriate actions to protect staff and pupils who may have come into contact with the positive participant, as per national guidance.

The oral fluid (saliva) and blood finger prick samples will be processed by scientists at laboratories at Colindale and Thriva. They will look for the levels of antibodies against COVID-19. We will send the result of this test to yourself. The processing time is generally longer for antibody tests, so you can expect to receive your results within four to eight weeks.

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19. How long will you keep my nose swab and oral fluid (saliva) sample?

Any remaining samples at the end of the survey will be stored for future tests that might help us better understand viral infections and immunity.

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20. 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 a swab from your nose and oral fluid (saliva) sample/blood test.

If you decide to withdraw from the survey, telephone IQVIA helpline on 0800 917 9679. A contact email is available for those who are unable to telephone, for example due to hearing or speech impairment iqvia.schoolinfectionsurvey@nhs.net and enter “Withdraw” in the subject of the email. If you are able to use the telephone, it would help us if you could do so.

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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21. Can I find out my results?

Yes, everyone will receive their results. If your nose swab tests positive for the virus, we will phone you as soon as the results become available. We will also inform the school and the local Test and Trace programme, run by National Institute for Health Protection. You and everyone in the household should follow current guidance on the NHS website. We may contact you for more information or to test other members of the household. This is to better understand how the virus affects families of school staff.

You will also receive the results of your antibody test. Although the results will tell you if you have antibodies against the virus, it only means that you have previously been exposed to the virus. It is currently unclear how much protection this gives a person.

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22. What happens if the nose swab tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19)?

As required by law, we will refer your positive swab test result and personal data (including your name, contact details, postcode and ethnicity) to the NHS Test and Trace system.

Everyone in your household should follow the guidance and isolate even if they don’t have any symptoms. The current guidance can be found on the NHS website.

If you develop any symptoms during this period, please follow the government’s advice about how long to isolate for starting from the first day of the symptoms. You can return to school once the guidance has been followed and your well and have no symptoms.

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23. What happens if the antibody test is positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19)?

A positive antibody test means that you have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus at some point in the past and developed antibodies to the virus. It does not mean you are infected with the virus now.

We do not yet know what being positive for antibodies means in terms of whether this will protect people from getting coronavirus again or prevent them passing the virus onto others. Anyone who obtains a positive antibody test should continue to abide by current self-isolation guidelines, wear face coverings and get tested if you have symptoms. The presence of antibodies signals that the body has staged an immune response to the virus, but it does not necessarily mean that person is now immune to COVID-19. That is one of the reasons we are visiting the same people lots of times in the survey.

Similarly, not everyone who has had coronavirus develops antibodies at all, and antibody levels can also fall after having had the infection, so that the antibody test can no longer detect them. So being negative for antibodies does not mean someone has not had coronavirus.

Covid-19 is a new disease, and our understanding of the body’s immune response to it is improving. We do not know, for example, hoe long an antibody response lasts, not whether having antibodies means a person cannot transmit the virus to others. Our understanding of the virus will grow as new scientific evidence and studies emerge.

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24. Why am I being tested for the coronavirus (COVID-19) if anyone with symptoms is eligible to get a test?

Research indicates that a large number of those infected have no symptoms and this study will give a more accurate picture of infections rates in schools.

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25. How else will you use my data?

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.  Further information on what we use data for is available.

The ONS will continue to hold your data collected from this study for as long as it remains useful for statistical research and production. The ONS may provide access to de-identified data to accredited researchers for accredited research purposes via accredited processing environments, where it is lawful and ethical to do so. 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.

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26. 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.

While some people may find the nose swab mildly uncomfortable, please be reassured that this will last no more than a few seconds. This is not the nasopharyngeal swab that takes a sample from deep into the back of the nose.

The blood test involving a finger prick will feel like a sharp scratch. Side effects may include bleeding, bruising and very small risks of scarring and infection.

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27. 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 Public Health England, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the National Statistician Data Ethics Advisory Committee.

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28. Confidentiality and data protection

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, Public Health England and London Schools of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine are the joint Data Controllers and are responsible for looking after your information and using it properly.

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.

IQVIA and the ONS will keep identifiable information about you from this study for five years after the study has finished.

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29. Further help

If you have any further questions on the COVID-19 Schools Infection Survey (SIS), you can telephone IQVIA helpline on 0800 917 9679 or email iqvia.schoolinfectionsurvey@nhs.net

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31. 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. To find out more about each service provider’s commitment while they are handling your information, please visit their websites.

In this study, we work with other organisations to provide the following services.

IQVIA and Serco will be responsible for arranging appointments. IQVIA will be carrying out the nose and throat swabs and taking the blood samples. The IQVIA privacy notice and Serco privacy notice are available on their websites.

National Biosample Centre are responsible for storing and processing the nose and throat swabs. The National Biosample Centre privacy notice (PDF, 156KB) is available on their website.

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