Self-isolation rules for schoolchildren could end in autumn
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Self-isolation rules in schools after children test positive for coronavirus could be brought to an end this autumn, the Department for Education has confirmed.
There are growing concerns about the rising number of children forced to quarantine after classmates contract Covid-19.
Currently, children must self-isolate for 10 days if they come into close contact with another pupil who tests positive for the illness.
Now, ministers have written to secondary schools asking them to potentially replace isolation rules with Covid testing.
A spokesman for the DfE said: “We are provisionally asking secondary schools and colleges to prepare to offer on-site testing when students return for the new academic year, so that schools are ready in case it is needed to keep as many children as possible in face-to-face education.
“We will provide further details about the approach to protective measures and test and trace in education from September in due course.”
Schools minister Nick Gibb added: “We are conducting trials of daily contact testing as a possible alternative to self-isolation."
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He told Sky News that a decision will be taken before July 19.
“What matters also is that we keep the school safe and, if you go around our schools, you will see a raft of measures to reduce the infection rates within schools," he said.
“There’s extra hygiene, there’s staggered breaks, we keep children in bubbles and there’s extra ventilation in classrooms to minimise the risk of transmission.”
He said that about 3% of students are currently self-isolating, but added that this figure is lower than it was in the autumn.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders and former headteacher of King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds, said: “We entirely understand the frustration of parents about children being sent home to self-isolate after so much disruption during the past year, and that frustration is shared by schools and colleges.
"Government rules require schools and colleges to trace the close contacts of anyone with coronavirus and ask them to self-isolate, and this can quickly escalate to a significant number of pupils.
"It is essential that the educational disruption we have seen over the past 15 months is brought to an end.”
Tim Coulson, chief executive of Unity Schools Partnership, which runs a number of schools in Suffolk, said: "Any positive case and subsequent self-isolation, whether individual or part of a school group, is going to be disruptive and we are watching with interest to see if there is a change in national guidance."
Parents have also raised concerns about the impact of disruption on pupils.
However, some still have serious concerns about children’s safety.
Bec Jasper, from Parents and Carers Together, said: “It’s fair to say that current guidelines have meant disruption to many families when children and young people are having to isolate due to positive cases.
“This can cause logistical issues, especially when parents are having to work from home as well as support continued education during the period of isolation.
“It’s also hard when siblings are still expected to attend if they aren’t part of the same bubble.
“The majority of parents we support remain concerned about the vulnerability of their children and, as such, appear to support continued restrictions to keep positive cases to a minimum as much as possible.”