Heads welcome end of school 'bubbles' to prevent further disruption

Pupils at Diss Junior Academy

School class bubbles are to be scrapped from July 19. - Credit: DNEAT

School class bubbles are to be scrapped from July 19 to prevent hundreds of pupils being sent home due to single positive Covid cases.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson has announced NHS Test and Trace will now handle notification of Covid outbreaks in schools.

In a statement to MPs he said key restrictions will come to an end before schools and colleges break up for the summer, but "some protective measures" will remain in place for the autumn term.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson. - Credit: PA

He told the Commons: "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. 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."

Pupils walk past Covid advice

Concerns have been raised about whole year groups isolating due to a single Covid case. - Credit: PA

The government has been under pressure over the controversial policy of isolating whole year groups if one child tests positive for Covid-19.

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Over 640,000 pupils in England were not in school due to Covid last week - up from 375,000 the week before. 

Of these, just 62,000 were confirmed or suspected Covid cases.

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Some education leaders have criticised plans to scrap school bubbles with the National Education Union branding it "neglectful and reckless decision making".

But some supported the planned changes, arguing they would reduce "disruption" of education.

Pupils sanitising their hands

Key restrictions in schools including class bubbles and staggered start times are to come to an end. - Credit: PA

Former local head Geoff Barton, who is now general secretary of the ASCL headteacher union, said removing the bubbles system would stop large groups being sent home at the same time.

He said: "The current requirement for close contacts of positive cases to be traced and asked to self-isolate is resulting in significant educational disruption on top of the disruption that children and young people have already experienced over the past 15 months.”

School leaders in Norfolk have welcomed the removal of restrictions and the prospect of a “more normal” school year from September.

Oliver Burwood, CEO of Diocese of Norwich Education and Academy Trust.

Oliver Burwood, CEO of Diocese of Norwich Education and Academy Trust. - Credit: DNEAT

Oliver Burwood, chief executive officer of the Diocese of Norwich Education and Academies Trust (DNEAT), which runs 36 schools, said: “We welcome the removal of bubbles and have always supported any change in the guidance that will result in more children being in school. 

“Headteachers have been frustrated when they have needed to send a whole class home due to one positive Covid test and using testing to ensure that only those that need to be away from school are sent home will make a real difference. 

“We will work with our academies and fantastic staff to ensure that these latest changes are implemented in a safe, effective and timely way.”

Shannon O'Sullivan, headteacher of Thomas Bullock Church of England Primary Academy in Shipdham near Dereham

Shannon O'Sullivan, headteacher of Thomas Bullock Church of England Primary Academy in Shipdham - Credit: Submitted

Shannon O’Sullivan, headteacher of Thomas Bullock CofE Primary Academy in Shipdham, said: “In our school we will continue to keep proactive at ensuring the safety and sanctity of our school community by wearing masks, distancing and adhering to the rules. 

“However, we feel encouraged that many restrictions will hopefully be removed for our pupils and families returning in September.”

Mr Williamson said, in addition to ending bubbles, it will "not be necessary to stagger start and finish times" though some schools and colleges may continue with the measures until the end of this term.

Pupils wearing face masks

Face coverings will no longer be advised for pupils, students, staff and visitors. - Credit: PA

Face coverings will no longer be advised for pupils, students, staff and visitors either in classrooms or in communal areas, and social distancing will no longer be necessary.

From September secondary schools and colleges will be asked to provide two on-site tests to their students at the start of the term, with regular home testing continuing until the end of September, when this will be reviewed.

Pupils sanitiser hands

Some protective measures will remain uin schools in the autumn term. - Credit: PA

Easing of school restrictions came as health secretary Sajid Javid also announced that from August 16, those under 18 will no longer be required to self-isolate if they are contacted by NHS Test and Trace as a close contact of a positive Covid-19 case.

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