School bubbles will be scrapped from July 19 but isolation rules for children who are contacts of positive Covid cases will stay in place until August 16
- Gavin Williamson set out ‘freedom day’ plans for schools to MPs this afternoon
- Education Secretary said that school ‘bubbles’ will be scrapped from July 19
- Isolation rules for pupils who are contacts of positive cases to stay to end of term
- Requirement for contact pupils to self isolate for contacts end from August 16
School ‘bubbles’ will be scrapped from ‘freedom day’ on July 19 but self-isolation rules for children who have been in contact with a positive coronavirus case will remain in place until August 16.
The Government will no longer recommend that schools should keep children in consistent groups beyond step four of Boris Johnson’s lockdown exit roadmap.
However, ministers are letting schools make the choice on whether to ditch bubbles immediately or to wait for the start of the next academic year in September.
This is because the summer term is due to end around the July 19 date and some headteachers may think it is easier to stick with the current rules for the final few days before the holidays.
Ditching ‘bubbles’ will mean that assemblies can return to normal while schools will no longer have to make arrangements to avoid different groups mixing at lunchtime.
However, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the ‘guidance on isolation of contacts will stay in place until the end of this term’.
From August 16 all under 18s will no longer be required to self-isolate if they are identified as a close contact of a positive coronavirus case.
Responsibility for tracking outbreaks will be transferred away from headteachers, with NHS Test and Trace being handed responsibility for containing outbreaks.
Pupils contacted by NHS Test and Trace as a contact of a positive case will be required to take a PCR test but they will only have to isolate if they themselves test positive.
The decision to scrap ‘bubbles’ comes amid rising alarm at the number of pupils being sent home.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the ‘guidance on isolation of contacts will stay in place until the end of this term’
The ‘bubbles’ policy will be replaced by a daily testing regime in time for the start of the next academic year in September
Current rules state that children have to self-isolate for 10 days if another pupil in their ‘bubble’ tests positive for coronavirus.
This has caused entire year groups to be sent home following outbreaks at some schools.
The latest Department for Education statistics showed that approximately one in 12 (8.5%) state school pupils – approximately 623,000 – 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.
Mr Williamson told the House of Commons this afternoon that changes will be made to rules in school as part of the PM’s ‘freedom day’ plans.
He said: ‘Having balanced the risks, I am pleased to tell members across the House the key restrictions on education and childcare will come to an end as we move to step four.
‘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.
‘That is why we will be ending bubbles and transferring contact tracing to the NHS Test and Trace system for early years settings, schools and colleges.
‘Where there are outbreaks schools and colleges may be contacted by NHS Test and Trace and they will also work with local health teams as they currently do now.
‘We are also setting out new rules that mean that from the 16th of August children will only need to isolate if they have tested positive for Covid-19.
‘I am also pleased to be able to say there will be no restrictions on in person teaching and learning in universities unless students are advised to isolate or impacted by local outbreaks.
‘From step four a more proportionate set of controls will apply in early years, schools, colleges and higher education institutions.’
Department for Education guidance published today said that ‘at Step 4 we will no longer recommend that it is necessary to keep children in consistent groups (‘bubbles’)’
It states: ‘When we proceed to Step 4, this means that bubbles will not need to be used for any summer provision (for example, summer schools) or in schools from the autumn term.
‘If your school is still open at Step 4, you may wish to continue with these measures until the end of your summer term.’
Mr Williamson said other rules will remain in place until the end of the summer term, with many schools due to break up for the holidays around the July 19 ‘freedom day’ date.
He said: ‘In education settings all other existing measures, including guidance on isolation of contacts, will stay in place until the end of this term in line with isolation rules for the rest of the population as more adults are vaccinated.
‘Settings will continue to have a role in working with health protection teams in the case of a local outbreak.
‘Where necessary some measures may need to be reintroduced. From August 16th those under the age of 18 years old 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.
‘This will balance the need to keep children safe at the same time as allowing them to get the education that they deserve and need.
‘Instead, children will be contacted by test and trace, informed they have been in close contact with a positive case and advised to take a PCR test.’
Mr Williamson said that in addition to scrapping bubbles it will no longer be necessary for schools to stagger their start and finish times.
Tory MPs had demanded the Government ditch ‘bubbles’ as soon as possible even if that meant it was ‘just for the last few days of term’.
Kate Green, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said: ‘Many parents across the country will be relieved to hear that the bubbles policy is coming to an end.
‘But the Secretary of State has not given us confidence that his alternative will keep more children in school without driving up infections.’
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