Families with children in school or college will be able to test themselves for Covid twice a week from home - under plans for schools to safely reopen in England.

Free tests will be provided to pupils' households, as well as those in their childcare or support bubbles, regardless of whether anyone has symptoms, the Government said on Sunday.

Schools and colleges are set to reopen on March 8 in the first phases of bringing the country out of lockdown.

The rapid tests will be ordered and collected from local sites or administered through workplace testing programmes, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.

Secondary and college pupils will be tested with lateral flow tests twice a week, receiving three initial tests at school before they start taking them at home.

Families with college-aged teenagers who are not studying are not included in the plans, the DHSC said.

Schools will reopen in England on March 8 as England begins to ease lockdown restrictions

The twice-weekly tests will also be offered to adults working with schools, such as bus drivers and after school club leaders.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said testing family members "will provide yet another layer of reassurance to parents and education staff that schools are as safe as possible".

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "Regular testing of households and childcare support bubbles of primary and secondary school children is another tool we are making available to help keep schools safe.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said regular testing will help keep people safe

"We know that one in three people with Covid-19 don't have any symptoms, so targeted, regular testing will mean more positive cases are kept out of schools and colleges."

His department said the tests will be available from March 1.

The health secretary defended plans for the next phase of the Government's Covid response, due to start in April, in which those aged 40-49 will be offered the jab first.

The view of the Government and its advisers was that "the right thing to do, the moral thing to do is to make sure that we save the most lives," Hancock said.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has said that vaccination in order of age remains the speediest way to cut deaths.

Sue Baxter from Seaham receives the AstraZeneca/Oxford University Covid-19 vaccine at the Arnison Vaccination Centre on February 22, 2021 in Durham
The government resisted calls to prioritise teachers (file image)

Targeting certain professions would be complicated and may slow down the process, the JCVI has advised.

This means that the second stage of the rollout will start with the 40-49 bracket before moving on to younger age groups.

Teaching unions have criticised to the move while the national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales said it was a "deep and damaging betrayal" and "will not be forgotten".

Asked specifically why teachers had not been prioritised, he said data showed that "thankfully teachers are no more likely to catch Covid than any other member of the population who goes to work".

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He added: "Trying to come up with a scheme which prioritises one professional group over another would have been complicated to put in place and wouldn't have done what we asked the JCVI to do, which I think is the right thing, which is to make sure we minimise the amount of people who die by using the vaccine."

England's deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, said that prioritising by occupations would "damage the pace of the vaccine rollout so much".