Schools encouraged to allow students to use NHS tracing app

The NHS Covid-19 contact tracing app was launched on Thursday 24 September, and schools/colleges are being encouraged to consider how use of the app will relate to their mobile phone policies. In new guidance the Department for Education (DfE) makes clear that there is no requirement for any setting to change their mobile phone policy, but that there are ‘likely to be benefits to settings, if a number of students and staff have the app and make use of it during the day.’

The app uses Bluetooth to anonymously assess the distance, over time, between people who have downloaded it. It can then alert people who have been in ‘close contact’ with a positive case. ‘Close contact’ generally means being within 2 metres of someone for 15 minutes or more, but individuals are not informed who the positive case is. The app can be downloaded by anyone aged 16 or over, so will be applicable to some students in Year 11, and the majority in Years 12 and 13.  

The guidance says that settings may want to change their mobile phone use policy if ‘they currently do not allow mobile phones on site, require mobile phones to be switched off during the day, or require phones to be left in lockers or similar.’ Contact tracing can still work while a phone is on silent and in a pocket or bag. The app has a function to ‘pause’ contact tracing, and it is recommended that this is used where phones are being left in lockers or similar, in order to avoid the app picking up contacts when the individual is not with their phone. Where a school or college allows mobile phones to be on and with students at all times, the guidance recommends that contact tracing is left on by students but that settings might want to issue reminders for students to ‘pause’ contact tracing during sessions such as PE where they will be away from their phone.

Whatever approach they take to use of the app, schools and colleges are being encouraged to think about how they communicate rules and expectations clearly to both students and parents. The guidance also calls on settings to make clear to students the procedure they should follow should they receive an alert during the school day that they have been in close contact with a positive case. Where students receive such an alert the setting should make appropriate arrangements for the student to leave at the earliest opportunity and begin self-isolation. Alerts are likely to relate to close contacts that took place at least 1-2 days earlier, but the app will not provide information on whether the contact took place in an education setting.

Schools and colleges are also being asked to think about whether they should be using the ‘check-in’ function for some of their activities. This function allows users of the app to ‘check-in’ at participating venues using a specially created QR code, to aid contact tracing should there be a confirmed case. Use of this function would not be for a setting’s day to day educational activities, but instead for things like nativity plays, hire of school premises for external events, or in the case of FE providers where they have public facilities on site such as libraries or beauty therapy services.

The full DfE guidance can be found here:

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