School Bubbles Will Be Scrapped Just Days Before The End Of Term
Gavin Williamson said regular testing would continue until September, but school bubbles would be scrapped (Alamy)
Gavin Williamson has confirmed that the system of “school bubbles” will be scrapped alongside other Covid restrictions on 19 July. Children will also soon be exempt from some self-isolation rules.
In a statement to the Commons, the education secretary said the current policy — which divides school cohorts into set groups to limit the spread of infection — had proved “essential to control the spread of the virus when our population was less vaccinated”.
But he admitted that the requirement for entire bubbles to self-isolate was “causing disruption to many children's education”.
Labour said it “welcomed” an end to the “chaotic” policy of school bubbles, but warned that the government “hasn't given us confidence that his alternative will keep more children in school without driving up infections”.
Gavin Williamson’s comments come as new figures revealed that over 561,000 school pupils were forced to isolate at home last week, with 8.5 percent of state school pupils missing classes for Covid-19-related reasons on 1 July.
Earlier this afternoon health secretary Sajid Javid announced that from 16 August under-18s will only have to self-isolate if they test positive for coronavirus.These rules will apply until four months after the individual's 18th birthday, giving them time to get fully vaccinated.
The move brings children in line with fully vaccinated adults, following Javid’s earlier announcement that people who have had both jabs will not be required to self-isolate as of 16 August if they come into contact with somebody infected with coronavirus.
Also in line with the final stage of lockdown lifting across England, children will no longer be required to wear face masks on school grounds from 19 July, but a regime of regular testing will stay in place until September at the earliest.
“No government would want to restrict people's freedom in the way we've had to since the spread of Covid-19,” Williamson said.
“We have prioritised education since we started this pandemic. We made sure that schools and colleges were the last to close, but the first to open.
“We kept school and college places open to vulnerable children and those of key workers throughout the pandemic and procured millions of laptops and tablets for children to learn at home."
He added: “None of this could have been achieved without the incredible work of our inspirational teachers and wider educational staff, and I'd like to thank the parents and students who have shown patience and flexibility over the last 18 months.”
“As a nation we prize the role of schools, colleges and universities more than ever before.
“With the ending of these restrictions children and young people will be able to get back on with their education and lives while we continue to manage this pandemic.”
But shadow education secretary Kate Green accused Williamson of “wishing away the real challenges” of the pandemic.
“Today’s statement offers no clarity on how the government will stop infection spiralling,” she said.
“The Conservatives inadequate testing regime, lack of action on ventilation, and their recklessness at the border has put our children's education at risk.”
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