Pupils to stay in year group 'bubbles' for autumn school return

29 June 2020, 20:58

Leaked documents have revealed how "bubbles" could be used extensively in schools
Leaked documents have revealed how "bubbles" could be used extensively in schools. Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

Hundreds of pupils could have to stay in “bubbles” separated by whole year groups, according to leaked back-to-school plans.

A draft of plans to get children safely back in the classroom in September, due to be published later this week, was seen by HuffPost UK.

It recommends that groups of up to 240 secondary pupils start and finish school at different times and stay apart from pupils of other ages during the school day, including at break and lunchtimes.

In larger secondary schools, eight classes of up to 30 pupils would stay isolated in the same protective “bubble”, all of whom would be sent home if a Covid-19 case was recorded in the group.

Primary school teachers would be urged to keep pupils in smaller bubbles of 30 because they normally stick with the same teacher.

The proposals would mean a doubling of the current cap on primary class sizes of 15.

Ministers will tell schools to focus on the core Maths and English subjects to allow pupils to catch-up on the months of lessons missed, with a full curriculum not returning until next summer, according to HuffPost UK.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is due to announce the final plans for reopening schools more widely to children on Thursday this week.

Speaking on Monday, Mr Williamson suggested the full return to school in September would not rely on social distancing restrictions in the same way as in pubs and shops.

“It’s not about one metre, it’s not about two metres,” he told BBC Breakfast, saying that safety would be based on “reducing the number of transmission points” within schools.

Schools began a phased reopening this month to some reception, Year 1, Year 6, Year 10 and Year 12 pupils, following three months shut to all except the children of key workers.

Boris Johnson abandoned a previous plan to give all primary pupils four weeks of classroom time before the summer break after school leaders said they would struggle with the 15-pupil limit, but the Prime Minister has vowed a full September return for all pupils.

There will not be any fixed social distancing requirements for pupils in primary school, whereas in secondary schools it will be one metre, but only where possible, the leaked documents suggest.

Students will be told to sit at desks facing forwards in the same direction, rather than at circular tables, when all children return to school in the autumn, reports suggest.

But if a pupil shows coronavirus symptoms, parents would have to quickly collect their child.

“While waiting, the child should be kept two metres away from the supervising teacher,” says the leaked guidance.

“If that is not possible, in the case of a young child or one with complex needs, staff should wear full PPE - disposable gloves, a disposable apron, a fluid-resistant surgical face mask and in some cases eye goggles.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, insisted that a full return to schools in the autumn be managed carefully, warning against a second spike in Covid-19 infections.

“We are urging the Government to have a plan B in place in the event that we arrive at September and the situation with coronavirus is too precarious to allow a full reopening,” he said.

“Frankly, it seems to be on a knife-edge at the moment.”

In response to the reports, the Department for Education said: “We continue to engage with school leaders, teaching unions and the wider sector about our plans and will publish full details later this week.”