The Department of Education has sent letters to primary schools to be distributed to parents, with further information on the antigen testing programme for pupils, which begins on Monday.

The letter reiterates that the most important way to protect against any onward spread of infection is that if a child has any symptoms of Covid-19, including a new cough, shortness of breath, high temperature, sore throat, they should self-isolate at home and a PCR test should be booked for them.

It stresses that children who have symptoms should not use antigen tests.

From Monday, parents or guardians are being asked to contact their child's school principal immediately if they receive a Covid-19 positive test result for their child.

The principal will then contact the parents of other children in their child’s 'pod’, to give them details of how they can order free antigen tests for their children using a Freephone number. The principal has been requested not to share any personal information relating to any child.

The tests will be done at home with results coming in 15 minutes.

The letter explains that if just one classroom pod is involved, only the children in that pod will be offered antigen tests. If there are two pods with separate confirmed cases, then parents or guardians of all children in the class will be contacted and provided with information as to how they can request antigen tests.

Parents or guardians will have to provide a child’s name and home address and the school’s roll number. Tests will be delivered to homes.

A first test should be carried out immediately, with a second two days later, and a third two days after that.

The letter states that "children in the pod of the confirmed Covid-19 case can continue to attend school as long as they have no symptoms and they do not have a positive Covid-19 test result (antigen or PCR)".

"If at any time, your child develops symptoms they should isolate at home and you should book a Covid-19 PCR test for them. Do this even if the antigen test has a negative (not detected) result. If an antigen test is positive, it is important that your child isolates at home and that you book a Covid-19 PCR".

The letter reminds parents that participation in antigen testing is voluntary, and they do not need to share any information with the school about whether they have requested antigen tests and undertaken negative tests.

In an accompanying letter to principals the department says the antigen programme is an additional measure to support schools, which, it says, have remained "relatively low risk environments and have not been a driver of transmission of Covid-19 in children".

It says principals do not need to gather details of the number of children who do antigen testing and they should not keep any records relating to individual children's results.

The letter states that SNAs or teachers working closely with children in a pod or classroom where there is a confirmed case or cases may also avail of antigen testing through the programme.

It states that this too is voluntary and that staff should continue to attend unless they are symptomatic or receive a detected result in the antigen test.