To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what recent assessment he has made of the effect of the removal of the Government's recommendation for students, staff and visitors in schools and other educational settings to (a) socially distance or stay in bubbles and (b) wear face coverings on transmission of covid-19 in those settings.
The department’s priority is for all nurseries, schools, colleges, and universities to deliver face-to-face, high-quality education to all pupils and students and to minimise disruption to education. We have worked closely with the UK Health Security Agency (UKSHA) throughout our response to the COVID-19 outbreak, including to revise our guidance from step 4 when the government relaxed most restrictions across all parts of society.
At step 4, the Department removed the recommendation for schools and colleges to keep pupils and students in consistent groups (‘bubbles’). Face coverings are also no longer recommended in nurseries, schools, colleges and universities. The control measures that remain in place in nurseries, schools, colleges and universities aim to strike a balance between managing transmission risk and reducing disruption to education. These include maintaining good hygiene, keeping spaces well ventilated, and following public health advice on testing, self-isolation and managed confirmed cases.
All nurseries, schools, colleges and universities should have contingency plans in place describing what they would do if children, pupils, students, or staff test positive for COVID-19, or how they would operate if they were advised to reintroduce any additional measures. The contingency framework sets out the measures that all nurseries, schools, colleges, and universities should be prepared for if they were advised to take extra measures to help break chains of transmission. It also sets out thresholds for managing COVID-19 cases and when nurseries, schools, colleges, and universities should consider seeking public health advice. The contingency framework can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-local-restrictions-in-education-and-childcare-settings/contingency-framework-education-and-childcare-settings.
There has been an increase in case rates amongst children since the return of schools, but evidence continues to show that children and young people remain at a very low risk of serious illness from COVID-19. Following the success of the vaccine rollout amongst older and more vulnerable populations, the department is now focusing on maximising the number of children and young people in face-to-face education and minimising the disruption that control measures can cause.
The department continues to closely review data, analysis, and advice from a number of different sources, including UKSHA, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, and the Office for National Statistics. We also continue to work closely with local authorities and their Directors of Public Health to inform our planning and response. The department will continue to keep all measures under review in partnership with health experts and informed by the latest scientific evidence and advice.