Ministers are set to decide on whether to scrap self-isolation for school pupils in England if one of their classmates tests positive for coronavirus.
The government has recently trialled daily contact testing for children as an alternative to an entire school “bubble” – made up of their class or even whole year group – having to self-isolate if one of their number is infected.
And schools minister Nick Gibb revealed an announcement on new COVID measures for schools will be made prior to the fourth and final stage of the government’s lifting of lockdown restrictions, which is scheduled for 19 July.
It follows a report in the Guardian that self-isolation requirements for pupils who have contact with a positive COVID case in schools will be ditched when schools return from summer holidays in September in England.
Headteachers have already been asked to prepare for new testing requirements for the start of the new school year.
“We are conducting trials of daily contact testing as a possible alternative to self-isolation,” Mr Gibb said.
“What matters also is that we keep the schools safe and if you go round our schools you will see a raft of measures to reduce the infection rates within schools.
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“There’s extra hygiene, there’s staggered breaks, we keep children in bubbles and there’s extra ventilation in classrooms to minimise the risk of transmission.”
Mr Gibb said there were “about 3% of students self-isolating at the moment”, which is “lower than it was in the autumn”.
“It tends to correlate with the number of infections in the community,” he added.
“Children are testing at home twice a week – it’s very important families continue to test their children twice a week so we can identify children who do have COVID and then they don’t come into the school and spread that virus to other children.”
Amid rising cases of the Delta variant of COVID, the government has postponed the fourth and final step of its roadmap for lifting lockdown restrictions to 19 July.
Revealing an announcement on possible new coronavirus measures for schools will be made prior to that date, Mr Gibb added: “We’ll look at the result of the trial and any decisions will be announced before we make a decision on step 4 going forward.”
He also highlighted how schools have been asked to prepare for new testing requirements after the summer holidays.
“We’ve also written to schools yesterday asking them to prepare for two tests to take place on the school premises as a way of preparing for that when we come back in September,” he said.
England’s new children’s commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza, has called for pupils to no longer have to self-isolate if someone in their school bubble tests positive for COVID-19.
“With bubbles, I think everybody would like it if we could get back to normal, as soon as possible,” she told the Daily Telegraph.
“Obviously we have to be safe, and we have to take advice, but it’s very very restrictive.”
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