The Education Secretary has confirmed that the use of “bubbles” in schools and colleges across England will come to an end as the country moves towards easing lockdown restrictions.
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At a glance: 5 key points
- Williamson’s comments came after Covid-related pupil absence in schools in England hit a new record high since classes fully returned in March.
- Around one in 12 (8.5%) state school pupils did not attend class for Covid-19-related reasons on July 1, up from 5.1% on June 24 and 3.3% on June 17, according to Department for Education (DfE) statistics.
- In addition to ending bubbles, Williamson said it will “not be necessary to stagger start and finish times” at schools.
- But the Education Secretary said “some protective measures” – such as enhanced hygiene and ventilation – will remain in place for the autumn term.
- Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed that contact tracing in nurseries, schools and colleges would cease after the lifting of final Covid-19 restrictions from 19 July, instead leaving it up to schools to decided whether or not to inform parents if a child has tested positive
What’s been said
“We recognise that the system of bubbles and isolation is causing disruption to many children’s education. That is why we’ll be ending bubbles and transferring contact tracing to the NHS Test and Trace system for early years settings, schools and colleges.
“I do not think it is acceptable that children should face greater restrictions over and above those of wider society, especially since they have given up so much to keep older generations safe during this pandemic.
“Secondary schools and colleges will be asked to provide two on-site tests to their students at the start of term, with regular home testing continuing until the end of September, when this will be reviewed.”
It was revealed at the end of June that ministers were planning to make big changes to the current school system, and instead turn to mass testing in schools to avoid sending large bubbles of students home should one test positive for the virus.
Figures showed that in England in June, a quarter of a million children missed school in a single week due to Covid-19 infections, self-isolation requirements and school closure.
Earlier in July, under the current system, more than 370,000 children were sent home from school.
A senior government source told The Guardian: “We will have a different system when schools return in September which combines proportionate protections when someone tests positive with trying as much as possible to keep schools open.”