Schools will no longer be told to keep pupils in consistent “bubbles” from step four of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, but isolation rules for close contacts will remain in place until the end of term.
Updated guidance issued by the Department for Education states that at step four, “we will no longer recommend that it is necessary to keep children in consistent groups (‘bubbles’)”.
It means bubbles will not be needed for summer provision or in schools from the autumn term.
Step four is slated to start on July 19, before many schools break up for the summer holidays.
The guidance states that “if your school is still open at Step 4, you may wish to continue with these measures until the end of your summer term”.
Also from step four, close contacts will be identified via NHS Test and Trace, and education settings “will no longer be expected undertake contact tracing”, the DfE guidance states.
But education secretary Gavin Williamson said today that guidance on isolation of contacts in schools “will stay in place until the end of this term in line with isolation rules for the rest of the population as more adults are vaccinated”.
Contacts under 18 not required to isolate from August 16
From August 16, under-18s who are identified as close contacts of positive Covid cases will no longer be required to self-isolate.
From step four, face coverings will also no longer be advised for pupils, staff and visitors “either in classrooms or in communal areas”. They will also no longer be recommended on school transport.
However, the updated guidance tells schools to be prepared to step measures up and down in response to local issues.
Schools “should make sure your outbreak management plans cover the possibility that in some local areas it may become necessary to reintroduce ‘bubbles’ for a temporary period, to reduce mixing between groups”.
Any decision to recommend the reintroduction of bubbles “would not be taken lightly and would need to take account of the detrimental impact they can have on the delivery of education”.
If schools have outbreaks, directors of public health “might advise you that face coverings should temporarily be worn in communal areas or classrooms (by pupils staff and visitors, unless exempt)”.
Secondary pupils to be tested on-site in autumn
The guidance states all secondary school pupils “should receive two on-site lateral flow device tests, three to five days apart, on their return in the autumn term”.
Settings “may commence testing from three working days before the start of term and can stagger return of pupils across the first week to manage this”.
“Pupils should then continue to test twice weekly at home until the end of September, when this will be reviewed.”
Staff should undertake twice weekly home tests “whenever they are on site until the end of September, when this will also be reviewed”.
Secondary schools should also “retain a small asymptomatic testing site (ATS) on-site until further notice so they can offer testing to pupils who are unable to test themselves at home”.
Although there is “no need” for primary age pupils to test over summer, those starting in year 7 will be offered two tests on-site at the beginning of the autumn term.
However, schools “may choose” to start testing year 6 pupils earlier, “including in summer schools, depending on their local circumstances”.
Staff and pupils with positive lateral flow test results should self-isolate in line with stay at home guidance, and “will also need to get a free PCR test to check if they have Covid-19”.
“Whilst awaiting the PCR result, the individual should continue to self-isolate. If the PCR test is taken withintwo days of the positive lateral flow test, and is negative, it overrides the self-test LFD test and the pupil can return to school, as long as the individual doesn’t have Covid-19 symptoms.”