We’ll pop any Covid bubbles that schools impose unnecessarily, vows minister

Head teachers who try to reintroduce bubbles for pupils will face intervention from commissioners, the schools minister has warned.

Nick Gibb said England’s eight regional school commissioners would be monitoring any cases of children being placed back into bubble systems and “phoning up” to ask why.

Pressed on schools defying government guidance on Covid-19 measures as millions of pupils return to class in England this week, he said there was “no real reason for schools to maintain the bubble arrangements”.

“Our recommendations are very clear that bubbles are not required in schools,” he told MPs. 

“The regional school commissioners will be phoning up to make sure the schools are not, for example, closing unnecessarily or sending too many children home.”

The Telegraph reported on Tuesday how parents have accused schools of imposing “nonsensical” curbs at the start of term, including face masks, bubbles and self-isolation of healthy children. 

Campaign for Children: Education: The days lost

Parents at Avanti House secondary school in Stanmore, north London, have been told that children will still be grouped into bubbles. A primary school in Cumbria told pupils they should stay at home until they can show a negative PCR coronavirus test, if traced as a close contact. 

This is despite government guidance saying pupils should be off school only if they test positive for Covid or are showing symptoms. Whole year groups were sent home last term if only one child in their “bubble” tested positive. 

Molly Kingsley, from the parents’ group UsForThem, said: “It has been a consistent pattern throughout this pandemic that schools and local education authorities have gone above Department for Education guidance, and they need to be reigned in.”

It comes as Ofqual confirmed that work was “quite advanced” on contingency plans, to be set out this autumn, should the “unthinkable” happen where GCSE and A-level exams are cancelled for a third year in a row. 

Children in more deprived areas are missing school due to Covid at twice the rate of those in wealthier areas

Ian Bauckham, the interim chairman of England’s exam regulator, said final plans for 2022 assessments would be released next month, adding there was a risk of “baking in the significant rise in high grades”.

Mr Gibb said he “hoped” exams would not be cancelled again and defended record levels of grade inflation. 

“We want the 2022 cohort to be treated as fairly compared with subsequent cohorts and past cohorts in 2020 and 2021,” he added. 

The DfE and Ofqual unveiled proposals in July for exams next summer, which includes giving pupils in England advance notice on the focus of exam papers.

A DfE spokesman said: "Our guidance is clear that schools should only introduce additional measures if advised by local Directors of Public Health in response to high case rates within the school. Such measures should be temporary and carefully balance public health concerns with the need to prioritise face-to-face education."

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