The Government is reviewing, and is expected to end, the current system of automatic isolation for school pupils in England after coming into contact with someone with Covid-19.
This comes after a sharp rise in the number of pupils being sent home because of Covid-19. Figures from the Department for Education have showed that more than 375,000 pupils – about one in 20 – were out of school for Covid-related reasons, up by more than 130,000 in a week.
Currently, entire ‘bubbles’ – which could be a whole year group – must quarantine at home if anyone in their bubble tests positive for Covid-19. An announcement from ministers is expected to be made in the coming days.
Independent school leaders have spoken out online about the difficulties of automatic isolation.
239,000 school pupils self-isolating. The guidance is becoming unworkable in schools. We need a review ahead of September. Young people have lived with the ongoing threat of disruption for too long. Staff are making daily changes to plans in schools across the country.
— VickyBingham (@VickyBingham) June 28, 2021
Having closed multiple year groups this week and cancelled many meticulously laid plans, our community are really feeling it. They, parents and pupils need certainty. Tremendous support and understanding @AbbotsHill but enough now!
— Kathryn Gorman (@GormanKathryn) June 28, 2021
In place of automatic isolation will likely be the return of mass on-site Covid-19 testing from September. This would eliminate the need for entire bubbles to isolate when a single child contracts the virus. The Government has been conducting trials of daily testing in 200 secondary schools to see how effective the system is.
However, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the Government has “no understanding of the scale of the logistical challenge” of setting up on-site testing.
It is also unclear what will happen in primary schools, as they are currently not testing pupils for Covid-19.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “Once again the Government is reacting late to a crisis rather than anticipating and trying to prevent one.”