School Covid bubbles 'expected to be dropped' on July 19, says Gavin Williamson

Classroom bubbles and isolation rules could be dropped after July 19, the Education Secretary has said.

Gavin Williamson made it clear that he was aiming to overhaul Covid restrictions in schools as part of Step 4 of the roadmap, which is due to go ahead next month.

Schools will break up for the summer within days of July 19, so the plan could be implemented for the start of the next term in September.

Labour demanded urgent clarity on when the bubbles system would end to allow schools and parents to plan.

Ministers are under immense pressure to end Covid chaos in schools as the latest figures show more than 375,000 children were out of class on June 24 due to the virus.

The latest figures from the Department of Education revealed that 279,000 pupils (3.8%) were isolating due to possible contacts with positive cases in schools, with 57,000 pupils self-isolating because of potential community contacts.

Gavin Williamson said he wanted to overhaul classroom bubble rules within weeks
Gavin Williamson said he wanted to overhaul classroom bubble rules within weeks

Pupils must isolate for 10 days if another child in their bubble tests positive for Covid under the current rules.

Mr Williamson told MPs: “What I want to see is these restrictions including bubbles removed as quickly as possible along with wider restrictions in society.

“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 over the last 18 months.

“Further steps will be taken to reduce the number of children who have to self-isolate including looking at the outcomes of a daily contact testing trial as we consider a new model for keeping children in schools and colleges.

“We constantly assess all available data and we expect to be able to confirm plans to lift restrictions and bubbles as part of Step 4.

“Once that decision has been made we will issue guidance immediately to schools.”

Pressed on whether the bubbles would be scrapped in September by Tory ex-minister Caroline Nokes, he replied: “I don’t want to be pre-empting the decision of cross-Government in terms of the next stage but our direction is very clear about lifting the restrictions and ensuring that children are not in the situation where they have to bubble.

Entire bubbles of pupils are sent home if their classmates test positive for coronavirus
Entire bubbles of pupils are sent home if their classmates test positive for coronavirus

“It’s very much part of the course of this road map – and we will be very much expecting that children would not be facing that in September.”

Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green demanded an end to the “drip-feed of information” wreaking havoc with children’s education.

“Schools, parents and pupils need urgent clarity. If bubbles will end on 19 July, schools need to know now so they can plan,” she said.

“Changing restrictions for five days at the end of term, will create more chaos for schools and families.

“Action is needed now to protect the final weeks of learning this year, but the Government has had nothing to say about supporting schools to put further mitigations in place.”

Tory lockdown sceptic Mark Harper pressed him on why bubbles could not be scrapped now as it would mean “huge problems for the rest of the term”.

He also pressed Mr Williamson on when regular Covid testing could come to an end.

The Education Secretary replied: “We do want to see schools return to normality and we don’t want children to feel as if there’s an extra layer of things that they have to do that we as adults don’t have to do and I think that is very important.”

He said testing has been an “incredibly important tool” in helping schools return and the issue is “under review”, adding: “Much longer-term do I see testing as something that we expect children to continuously do always in the future?

“No I don’t, and I ideally want to move away from that at the earliest and most realistic possible stage.”


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