STUDENTS and teachers at a Portland school are being swabbed for Covid-19 as part of a government-funded study to examine whether the virus spreads in schools.

Trained staff are carrying out five weekly tests at Atlantic Academy in the run up to the summer holidays to track transmission rates between students and teachers.

The results of this pilot Public Health England scheme, which involves 100 schools across the country, could be used to shape a much bigger school surveillance study in the autumn.

There have been no known cases of coronavirus amongst staff or children at Atlantic Academy.

The all-through school has been open to children of key workers and vulnerable children throughout lockdown and Reception, Year 1, Year 6 and Year 10 students have recently returned in line with government guidance.

Regular nose swabs will take place on up to 200 teachers and pupils at each school taking part in the study.

Lesley Bishop, Principal of Atlantic secondary, said involvement in the scheme is seen by the local community as a reassurance: “The data collection helps parents to see that our school is safe and should encourage more children back into school.”

Melissa Heppell, Principal of Atlantic primary, added: “The children realise the testing is not about them personally and that they are part of a national study and they’re excited that the school is considered important enough to take part.”

Around 40 of the schools taking part will see students and teachers give blood samples to look for antibodies against the virus. Atlantic Academy is not involved in this aspect of the study.

Officials hope the findings will help open up classrooms to more children in September by revealing how to best minimise the spread of coronavirus.

Commenting on the PHE study earlier this month, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “A critical pillar of our Covid-19 testing strategy is surveillance – testing samples of the population to gain a deeper understanding of the spread of Covid-19 – especially in those who may not have symptoms.

“This study will help us better understand how common asymptomatic and mild cases of Covid-19 are so that we can support parents, pupils and teachers and staff, and inform our ongoing response to this new virus.”

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