September 28, 2020

Coronavirus: Schools could expand pupil 'bubbles' to 30 to bring all children back in September

June 25, 2020

Schools are expected to be allowed to expand their pupil "bubbles" to 30 children or more in September, under plans being considered by the government.

A strategy will be set out next week for how primary and secondary schools can meet Boris Johnson's promise to bring every child back five days a week, from the autumn term.

Currently, the primary pupils who have returned to school, along with children of key workers and the most vulnerable, are being kept in groups of up to 15 - and these do not mix.

Ministers are considering doubling that to 30, a government source told Sky News, but Education Secretary Gavin Williamson will be finalising the plans in the coming days.

According to some reports, which the government would not comment on, secondary school pupils who study different subject options at GCSE and A-Level may be allowed to form whole year group bubbles - of hundreds of children - with no social distancing.

Headteachers and unions have argued that a full return is not possible currently because the distancing protocols require more classrooms and staff than are available.

Any decision to scrap or relax social distancing among large groups of pupils would face questions from parents and teachers, and would need to be approved by Public Health England.

Guidance issued to schools in May from the Department for Education says two-metre distancing is not expected for younger children, but should be followed by older pupils and adults "where possible". Many schools are trying to implement it.

Geoff Barton, of the ASCL union, which represents headteachers, said larger bubbles would be a more "realistic and workable" way to bring all children back.

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"Social distancing at either two metre or one metre was never going to be possible with a full return to school, and it recognises that safety will have to be managed in other ways," he said.

"In secondaries, children have to regularly move between different subject options, so the idea of 'bubbles' being based on whole year groups is a more workable way forward."

But he added that the government needed to reassure teachers and parents about safety - and that it would be "sensible to have a plan B" if the infection rate increases in the coming months.

The government has faced calls to make public buildings such as town halls and libraries available as overflow classrooms if smaller pupil bubbles are still required in the autumn, but officials believe such a plan is fraught with practical difficulties.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "We will publish further information and guidance next week to help schools prepare for a full return in September.

"We are working across government and with the sector to ensure these plans are fully in place."

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