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Return to School Plans for September

01.07.21

As debate rages over plans to ‘relax’ school Covid safety rules, Abode2 explores the different measures schools may be adopting next term

With the latest figures showing that more than one in 20 pupils nationally were off school last week because of contact with Covid cases, there is a broad consensus that the situation simply cannot carry on as it is.

The worsening attendance figures and the widespread reports of bubble, year group and school closures owing to the spread of the virus have created mounting pressure for the government to take action to reduce the constant disruption being caused to pupils’ education.

At the same time, the latest Public Health England data has shown an increasing number of Covid outbreaks in schools.

There is a growing sense that, as the country moves towards vaccinating its adult population, it needs to look again at how the virus is managed in schools.

But what can actually be done to protect schools from more disruption? And what is September likely to look like for teachers and school staff?

An obvious way to reduce the number of pupils being sent home following potential Covid contact is to change the rules on the need to self-isolate.

And education secretary Gavin Williamson has already indicated that this is what the government plans to do.

He said: “I am working with the health secretary, alongside scientists and public health experts, to relax Covid measures in schools in line with wider work to remove restrictions across society.

“I’ll be looking closely at the issues around the need for ongoing isolation of bubbles and the outcomes of the daily contact testing trial, as we consider a new model for keeping children in education.”

The latest figures for last week show that there were 336,000 pupils isolating because of a contact with a Covid case, with 279,000 of these contacts happening inside school.

This compares with 15,000 pupils who were off with a confirmed case of Covid and 24,000 pupils off with a suspected case of the virus.

The other major change linked to this is the government’s plan to bring an end to schools operating in bubbles.

Mr Williamson told MPs yesterday that he wanted to lift the restriction of bubbles as part of the government’s plans to move the country out of Covid restrictions next month – although it was unclear at the time of writing whether this would mean bubbles could be scrapped in July or at some later point in the summer.

An early decision, well ahead of September, will be welcomed by headteachers. Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, has been calling on the government to provide clarity over whether schools will still be expected to operate bubbles in September.

There is also support for a policy change on bubbles from parts of the scientific community. Earlier this week, Professor Russell Viner, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) stopped short of calling for bubbles to be scrapped, but said that the current rules risk creating a situation where vaccinated adults can enjoy freedoms “while restrictions are put on one part of society – our children – who won’t be vaccinated”.

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