Revealed: 960 Suffolk students self-isolate as teachers fear end to Covid bubbles

Education secretary Gavin Williamson Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

The education secretary Gavin Williamson is looking at ending Covid bubbles for pupils on July 19 - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Teachers across Suffolk have raised concerns over plans to ditch Covid bubbles in schools as it was revealed that nearly 1,000 students are currently self-isolating. 

Suffolk County Council has said there were 36 schools in the county with one or more cases of Covid and 960 students self-isolating from June 23 to June 30.

This week it was also reported that hundreds of students are self-isolating at Glemsford Primary Academy in Sudbury and St Edmund's Catholic Primary School in Bury St Edmunds. 

The education secretary Gavin Williamson said on Wednesday he will outline plans to scrap school bubbles — where students are kept with a limited number of classmates —  by July 19, which has prompted fears from teachers. 

Mr Williamson thinks its unacceptable for restrictions like bubbles to continue and should be "removed as quickly as possible". 

He added in parliament: "[We are] looking at the outcomes of the daily contact testing trial, as we consider a new model for keeping children in schools and colleges."

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

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Ipswich MP Tom Hunt, who sits on the parliament's education committee, said he agrees with the government if they think it is safe following the success of the vaccine roll-out. 

He said "young people are not so badly ill from the virus" and have been deprived "for too long" of the benefits of socialisation and mental health wellbeing while in school. 

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"[In learning] there is no substitute for the classroom," he said. "We are in a very different place now than before when we did not have the vaccine."

Graham White is from the Suffolk branch of the National Education Union

Graham White is from the Suffolk branch of the National Education Union - Credit: Graham White

Graham White, the National Education Union (NEU) representative for Suffolk, said there is still "risk" pupils will take Covid home to their families, infect teachers and feels the impact of coronavirus over time is still not well understood. 

He added: "Let's protect the population and let's wait and see to deal with the virus. 

"I'm still going to wear a mask [after July 19, known as Freedom Day] even If I don't need to as I want to protect myself and my family.

"We can then see about bubbles in November."

He added that if the government rolls out its own testing in schools, so staff do not have increased workloads, then there could be a situation where bubbles could be relaxed but "we're not there yet". 

Dave Lee-Allan, chair of the Suffolk Association of Secondary Headteachers, agrees that testing has been difficult for schools and has found as headteacher of Stowmarket High School that pupils are now not picking up home rapid lateral flow tests. 

Dave Lee-Allan, chairman of the Suffolk Association of Secondary Heads Picture: ARCHANT

Dave Lee-Allan, chairman of the Suffolk Association of Secondary Heads Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Gregg Brown

Mr Lee-Allan said: "Every school leader would want there to be a different system than telling students to go home."

But he pointed out the school does not have the space to do testing in-house and "thankfully" has had few of their bubbles self-isolating.   

Craig D'Cunha, executive headteacher of Chantry Academy in Ipswich

Craig D'Cunha, executive headteacher of Chantry Academy in Ipswich - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Craig D’Cunha, executive headteacher at Chantry Academy, said he had to send 13 students home on Thursday when they tested positive through a lateral flow test, with 40% likely to return after negative PCR tests.

Mr D'Cunha said these measures prevent "outbreaks" and students developing symptoms, and added, "quality education" is easier to deliver in the classroom.

He said it would be better if the government delivered testing as an alternative but was not sure if he would feel that way if Suffolk was a high Covid area. 

"Our first priority is to keep students and staff safe," he added. 

Boris Johnson has pledged to reveal details of what the end of lockdown restrictions will look like in the coming days.

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