Schools: Geoff Barton discusses pupils wearing masks

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Ministers told English secondary schools to prepare for the possible change as figures reveal pupil no-shows are at a new high since classes resumed in March. Figures yesterday showed about one in 20 (5.1 percent) state school pupils did not attend class due to Covid on June 24. That is up from 3.3 percent on June 17 and 1.2 percent on June 10. Around 279,000 children were isolating due to a possible virus contact, 24,000 had a suspected case and 15,000 a confirmed case, the Department for Education (DfE) said.

Children must currently self-isolate for 10 days if a pupil in their bubble tests positive.

But 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, in case it is needed to keep as many children as possible in face-to-face education.”

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “I’ll be looking closely at the issues around the need for ongoing isolation of bubbles and the outcomes of the daily contact testing trial as we consider a new model for keeping children in education.”

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said a final decision would be made before July 19.

Adam Finn, from the Government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said as children with Covid did not tend to get very ill, “the harm that’s done to them by closing schools or by excluding them far exceeds any harm they get from the virus itself”. 

And Professor Russell Viner of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said the system now seemed to be have “very significant unintended consequences” affecting mental health.

Geoff Barton of the Association of School and College Leaders, backed a different approach, but said: “What we have heard so far from the Government amounts to no more than vague aspirations and there is still no robust and coherent plan in place.”

England’s Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza said there was an urgent need for the young to get back to normal.

She said lockdown restrictions had been a “real trauma” for many children struggling with mental health issues.

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