School bubbles to end and in-house teaching to remain at universities, Gavin Williamson confirms

The school bubble system is to be dropped and in-person teaching will remain at universities, Gavin Williamson has confirmed.

The education secretary said the bubble system – which has kept pupils and teachings in groups to minimise mixing amid the Covid pandemic – and isolation is “causing disruption to many children’s education”.

Also on Tuesday, the government said levels of school absence linked to Covid-19 was at its highest level since March.

More than eight per cent of state school pupils in England did not attend school last Thursday due to Covid-related reasons, including for confirmed Covid cases and being identified as a close contact .

Concerns have been raised in recent weeks about the interpretation of rules which have resulted in large groups of pupils being sent home for 10 days if another pupil in their bubble tests positive for Covid-19.

Mr Williamson told parliament on Tuesday that “key restrictions” would be dropped for schools from Step 4 of England’s roadmap out of lockdown, which is planned for 19 July.

“Though keeping children in consistent groups was essential to control the spread of the virus when our population was less vaccinated, we recognise that the system of bubbles and isolation is causing disruption to many children’s education,” the education secretary said.

“That is why we’ll be ending bubbles and transferring contact tracing to NHS test and trace system for early years settings, schools and colleges.”

He told MPs: “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 16 August children will only need to isolate if they have tested positive for Covid-19.”

He also said there would be “no restrictions on in-person teaching and learning in universities” unless students are told to self-isolate or affected by local outbreaks.

But some universities have already confirmed they will be offering blended learning – a mix of online and in-person teaching – at the start of the next academic year.

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