Schools: Coronavirus

Department for Education written question – answered on 25th June 2021.

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Photo of Olivia Blake Olivia Blake Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what discussions he has had with Public Health England on determining the appropriate size of a bubble in schools during the covid-19 outbreak; and if he will publish the scientific guidance he received ahead of making that decision.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

At each stage of the Government’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, we have listened to the latest medical and scientific advice. The Department has provided regularly updated guidance to support schools, with input from education leaders, unions, and sector bodies and in consultation with Public Health England and the Health and Safety Executive.

Schools must do everything possible to minimise contacts and mixing, while delivering a broad and balanced curriculum. The overarching principle to apply is reducing the number of contacts between pupils and staff. This can be achieved through keeping groups separate in ‘bubbles’ and through maintaining distance between individuals. Consistent groups reduce the risk of transmission by limiting the number of pupils and staff in contact with each other to only those within the group. Maintaining distinct groups or ‘bubbles’ that do not mix makes it quicker and easier in the event of a positive case to identify those who may need to self-isolate, and to keep that number as small as possible.

Schools should assess their circumstances and try to implement ‘bubbles’ of an appropriate size to achieve the greatest reduction in contact and mixing. They should make sure this will not affect the quality and breadth of teaching, or impact access for support and specialist staff and therapists.

Whatever the size of the group, they should be kept apart from other groups where possible. Pupils should be encouraged to keep their distance within groups. Schools should try to limit interaction, sharing of rooms, and social spaces between groups as much as possible.

When using larger groups, the other measures from the system of controls are even more important to minimise transmission risks and the numbers of pupils and staff who need to self-isolate. Younger pupils and those with complex needs will not be able to maintain social distancing and it is acceptable for them not to distance within their group. Using small groups can restrict the normal operation of education and present educational and logistical challenges.

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