Education Secretary hopes to lift school bubble restrictions from 19 July

30 June 2021, 13:47 | Updated: 30 June 2021, 15:52

Pupils queuing to take a lateral flow test at Archway School in Stroud in Gloucestershire
Pupils queuing to take a lateral flow test at Archway School in Stroud in Gloucestershire. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

Ministers expect to be able to confirm plans to lift school 'bubbles' from July 19, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has told MPs.

Step four is due to take place next month and is the final step on England's 'roadmap' out of lockdown.

Gavin Williamson said his "top priority" is to keep children in schools.

Mr Williamson told the Commons: "Some restrictions remain in place in schools. 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."

Yesterday official figures showed that 375,000 children did not attend class last week for a Covid-related reason.

Covid-related pupil absence is at its highest rate since schools reopened in March, with 5.1% of all pupils in state-funded schools absent on 24 June.

Labour has called on the government to find a solution to the issue and No10 has pledged to see if it can scrap quarantine requirements for schoolchildren by introducing daily testing in England.

In addition to the 375,000 children self-isolating due to a possible contact with a Covid-19 case, 24,000 pupils have a suspected case of coronavirus and 15,000 have a confirmed case of coronavirus.

Existing rules mean large groups of students can end up being sent home if one pupil in their bubble tests positive.

It has led to frustration for the pupils, parents and teachers. On Monday, a parent whose son was off for 10 days told LBC the current system was a "disgusting way to treat children" while another said 300 children in his son's school year were sent home after a pupil tested positive for Covid.

On Tuesday, new figures from the Department for Education (DfE) showed that 5.1% of pupils were absent for a Covid-related reason in state schools on June 24, up from 3.3% on 17 June.

In primary schools, 4.5% of pupils were absent for a Covid-related reason on June 24, up from 2.7% on June 17, and 6.2% of secondary school students were away for the same reason, up from 4.2% on June 17.

That figure adjusts for the Year 11 – 13s who are off site.

The Government has now confirmed it will consider replacing the need to quarantine with a new approach with testing.

Education minister Nick Gibb told LBC that a trial has been carried out in schools to see if daily testing can replace the need for children to isolate. The trial ends tomorrow and the Government will review the data from it.