Cumbria health boss responds amid plans to scrap school bubbles

School bubbles could soon be scrapped as the number of pupils sent home to self-isolate continues to rise.

Prime Minister, Boris Johnston, is urging parents to be patient about the possible decision as a review by Public Health England into using testing over isolation remains ongoing.

Mr Johnston’s comments came as the PM faced renewed pressure from his own backbench MPs to end the bubble system when remaining Covid-19 restrictions in England are expected to be lifted later this month.

Education secretary, Gavin Williamson, has said he wants the school bubble system in England removed as soon as possible.

This could happen alongside the next step of the roadmap for unlocking the country from the pandemic.

Daily testing is one of the alternatives that could be implemented.

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Louise Atkinson, both a teacher and national executive member for National Education Union, has called for more clarity from the government about what will happen after July 19.

She said: “There are real issues with children being isolated at the moment and there does need to be a solution around that.

“We as a union, and as a teacher myself, are slightly concerned that it seems again that we have half an announcement, without proper time to plan for anything moving forward.

“Obviously we appreciate in a pandemic it is difficult to plan ahead, but we keep getting half announcements – ‘this is going to happen’ without the logistics behind it which makes it really difficult for our school leaders to plan.”

Mrs Atkinson recognises the hard work and the pressure of school leaders during the pandemic and says they need a break before the next term.

She continued: “We want all children in school for as long as possible. There was a test pilot around the move to daily testing for close contacts.

“But we’ve not had any results from that test pilot and we are keen for those to be released so that the scientific world can scrutinise and make sure that works.

“There needs to be wider thinking around it. We are still calling for ventilation to be improved in classrooms. Good ventilation helps to reduce the transmission and many classrooms don’t have good ventilation across Cumbria.

“We want to have as many children in school for as long as possible.”

Director of Public Health for Cumbria, Colin Cox, understands the frustration of parents and school pupils alike having to self-isolate but says the only way to stop this is to keep transmission levels low.

He explained: “The key question is what is going to happen in September and there is a lot of conversation still to be had about that over the course of the summer holidays.

“It doesn’t seem to be that by September when we go back we will be managing things the way they have been managed up until now.”

Talking about daily testing for pupils, Mr Cox said: “It very much depends what case rates are like at the time and how you go about daily testing. It’s not an easy thing to do.

“Certainly within schools I know there has been piloting of daily testing with contacts to try and enable them to come back into school and they found that a real challenge.

“There are some things that may sound good in theory, but putting them into practice is the really difficult bit.”

“We need to keep the transmission down so that pupils aren’t testing positive,” continued Mr Cox.

“I entirely understand the frustration. Coming back in September I think things will be different. We just need to get through the next couple of weeks.

“I know things are hard for people. But we are nearly at the end of term.

“But what’s happening at the moment is working in terms of stopping transmission in school.”

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