School bubbles to end and in-house teaching to remain at universities, Gavin Williamson confirms

School bubbles to end and in-house teaching to remain at universities, Gavin Williamson confirms


School bubbles to end and in-house teaching to remain at universities, Gavin Williamson confirms

School bubbles to end and in-house teaching to remain at universities, Gavin Williamson confirms

The school bubble system is to be dropped and in-person teaching will remain at universities, Gavin Williamson has confirmed.

The education secretary said the bubble system – which has kept pupils and teachings in groups to minimise mixing amid the Covid pandemic – and isolation is “causing disruption to many children’s education”.

On Tuesday the government reported that levels of school absence linked to Covid-19 was at its highest level since March.

More than eight per cent of state school pupils in England – more than 640,000 students – did not attend school last Thursday due to Covid-related reasons, including for confirmed Covid cases and being identified as a close contact.

Concerns have been raised in recent weeks about the interpretation of rules which have resulted in large groups of pupils being sent home for 10 days if another pupil in their bubble tests positive for Covid-19.

Mr Williamson told parliament on Tuesday that “key restrictions” would be dropped for schools from Step 4 of England’s roadmap out of lockdown, which is planned for 19 July.

“Though keeping children in consistent groups was essential to control the spread of the virus when our population was less vaccinated, we recognise that the system of bubbles and isolation is causing disruption to many children’s education,” the education secretary said.

“That is why we’ll be ending bubbles and transferring contact tracing to NHS test and trace system for early years settings, schools and colleges.”

Geoff Barton from the Association for School and College Leaders (ASCL) said the scrapping of the bubbles system “should remove some of the current barriers to offering children and young people a full timetable of lessons and return school life to something which seems much more normal”.

Mr Williamson also told MPs also said there would be “no restrictions on in-person teaching and learning in universities” unless students are told to self-isolate or affected by local outbreaks.

But some universities have already confirmed they will be offering blended learning – a mix of online and in-person teaching – at the start of the next academic year.

Mr Williamson told MPs on Tuesday: “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.”

As well as scrapping bubbles and schools having to do contact tracing themselves, the education secretary said another change would be children only needing to isolate after a positive Covid test, which would come into force from 16 August.

Mr Barton from ASCL said this would “remove the main reason for current Covid-related pupil absence”.

New government figures show around 561,000 children in England were self-isolating last Thursday due to possible contact with a Covid-19 case.

This was on top of 34,000 pupils out of school with a suspected Covid case and 28,000 with a confirmed Covid infection.

Around 8.5 per cent state school pupils did not attend class for Covid-19-related reasons on 1 July – up from 5.1 per cent from the week before, which was the highest level since March before being overtaken by the latest figures.

Nick Brook from the school leaders’ union NAHT, said the latest figures “make for grim reading” and show the “huge impact” the highly contagious Delta variant of Covid is having on schools.

“Whilst the government might argue that scrapping bubbles and changing rules around self-isolation will reduce the number of pupils missing education, we should be equally worried about the significant rise we have seen in confirmed and suspected cases in a single week,” the union’s deputy general secretary said.

Speaking about the changes announced by Mr Williamson, Mr Brook said:“No school leader wants to have restrictions in place any longer than are needed, but there will be a sense of real concern amongst many that the worsening situation they see before their eyes is at odds with the government’s narrative of relaxation and return to normality.”

“Schools have seen a near doubling of children contracting Covid-19, with 28,000 confirmed cases reported in the last week alone. “

He added: “School leaders and parents alike will want more reassurance than has been given so far that removal of restrictions are supported by scientific evidence, not driven by political convenience.”


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