Sheffield headteachers back decision to end school ‘bubbles’
Schools in Sheffield have hailed the Government’s move to scrap school 'bubbles' despite growing concern about the recent surge of Covid infections.
Covid-related pupil absence in schools in England has hit a new record high since all students returned to classrooms in March, Government figures show.
According to the Department of Education, an estimated 83.4 per cent of state school pupils in England were in class on July 1, down from 87.4 per cent on June 24 and 89.7 per cent on June 17.
Meanwhile in secondary schools, only 76.9 per cent attended class, down from 82.4 per cent in the previous week, while 87.8 per cent of pupils attended primary school, down from 90.9 per cent.
The figures were released ahead of education Secretary Gavin Williamson’s announcement in the Commons today about replacing the requirement for entire school bubbles to isolate after a positive Covid contact with enhanced testing.
He told MPs that from August 16 children will only need to self-isolate if they have tested positive for Covid-19.
Current rules state that children have to self-isolate for 10 days if another pupil in their bubble – which can be an entire year group at secondary school – tests positive for coronavirus.
Although parents are seemingly more cautious about the move, several schools in Sheffield said this should be welcome as it is time for some sort of normality to return to school life in the new academic year.
Mrs Hannan Mohammed, headteacher at Carfield Primary School, said: "It is a positive move in the right direction for schools.
"Whilst there has been a surge in cases in schools, it is becoming increasingly complicated, and parents and pupils have become frustrated at having to isolate, especially as the majority of the adult population have been vaccinated and the death toll has decreased as a result.
"The removal of 'bubbles' means that we can plan for some sort of normal school year next year, without having to factor isolation and risk assessments for everything we do."
Mr Paul Stockley, headteacher at Bradway Primary School, agreed.
He said: "I think that the current data, showing that only four per cent of pupils who are being sent home from school to isolate are positive for Covid, suggests that the blunt instrument of bubbles in schools is no longer justifiable.
"As has been the case all through the pandemic, we need to balance the risks and the benefits of restrictions in schools and currently the restrictions appear to be out of step with what is happening in wider society and disproportionate to the actual risk, considering the success of the vaccination programme.
"Although the restrictions have remained in schools for a very good reason, supported by scientific evidence, in my opinion, the proposal to lift school bubbles can't come soon enough now for children in our schools, who have experienced so much disruption to their education."
St Wilfrid's Primary School’s executive headteacher Mr Andrew Truby said it would continue to implement a system of controls to ‘minimise the risk of transmission of infection’.
"Many of the current habits and routines have made the running of schools more efficient and would be continued,” he said.
"This will continue to be reviewed in line with Public Health advice and our own ongoing monitoring," he added.
Some parents, however, have taken to social media to express their concerns about the surge in positive cases affecting pupils.
Sheffield author Simon Warren tweeted: "Whole year at daughter's school sent home because of the amount of cases. Ninety per cent of her year is already off. This never happened first time or second time."
Another parent added: "Same here. Over half my son's secondary school isolating. Still, freedom day soon eh?"
Addressing the Commons, Mr Williamson said: “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.”
“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.”
“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’re also setting out new rules that mean from the 16th of August children will only need to isolate if they have tested positive for Covid-19.”
Mr Williamson said that in addition to ending bubbles, it will ‘not be necessary to stagger start and finish times’ at schools.
He explained: “Schools and colleges may of course continue with these measures until the end of the summer term if they so wish.”
On self-isolation for close contacts of someone who has tested positive for Covid-19, 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 as vaccinated.
“Settings will continue to have a role in working with health protection teams in case of a local outbreak.
“Where necessary, some measures may need to be reintroduced.
“From August 16, those under the age of 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.”