School ‘bubbles’ are to be scrapped and replaced by Test and Trace tracking in time for the start of the new academic year in September – although the current system will remain in place until the end of the Summer term. The current system states 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 most schools. Official statistics showed last week that the number of pupils self-isolating at home had quadrupled in the last two weeks to 375,000. This is causing issues for parents who have to juggle work and childcare.
Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, today (06.07.21) said the ‘guidance on isolation of contacts will stay in place until the end of this term’. But 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.
Mr Williamson told the Commons, ‘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.’
He added that secondary and college pupils will be required to take two tests on-site at the start of the autumn term and continue to take two tests a week at home until the end of September, when the policy will be reviewed.
Also from the Autumn term, teachers who are fully vaccinated can remain in school if a close contact tests positive.