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School bubbles to end and pupils will only isolate if positive for Covid under new plans
6 July 2021, 13:43 | Updated: 6 July 2021, 17:40
School children will no longer need to isolate unless they test positive for Covid after August 16, Gavin Williamson has announced.
The education secretary said the bubble system, which has seen groups of pupils forced out of the classroom even when they didn't have Covid, will end after step four, too.
He also confirmed that "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" from August 16.
Restrictions on face-to-face teaching in English universities are also set to end this month.
Covid-related pupil absence in England has hit a record high since they all returned to class in March.
Parents and teachers have criticised the current system amid fears pupils' education was being disrupted after a year of the pandemic.
"Keeping children in consistent groups was essential to control the spread of the virus when our population was less vaccinated," Mr Williamson told MPs in the House of 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: "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."
He said: "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."
New Government figures show about one in 12 state school pupils did not attend class for Covid-related reasons on July 1, up from one in 20 on June 24.
About 561,000 pupils are self-isolating because of contact with a possible Covid case, while 34,000 have a suspected case and 28,000 have been confirmed as having coronavirus infection.
Existing rules mean children have had to self-isolate for 10 days if another pupil in their bubble, which could be an entire year group, test positive.
Education union leaders had criticised the plan to drop bubbles as part of step four of England’s release from lockdown, slated for July 19.
Others have supported the changes, believing it would reduce the impact of Covid on learning.
The education secretary also confirmed "some protective measures will remain" for the autumn term, including "enhanced hygiene and ventilation" but after step four, face coverings will no longer be advised for pupils, staff or visitors.
Regular home testing will continue until the end of September while secondary schools and colleges will be asked to provide two on-site tests at the start of term.
Start and finish times will no longer need to be staggered, but he warned “some measures may need to be reintroduced” if necessary.