Lack of clear guidance is making last days of term chaos, say headteachers

·3-min read
From Monday schools can drop the bubble system, which has seen whole year groups sent home to isolate. (PA Archive)
From Monday schools can drop the bubble system, which has seen whole year groups sent home to isolate. (PA Archive)

The final days of the school term have been made “extremely challenging” by unclear guidance and changes to bubble rules, school leaders warned.

Headteachers are struggling with a “fraught and complex” situation, with large numbers of children self-isolating, rising Covid rates and “vague” details about changes to rules.

From Monday schools can drop the bubble system, which has seen whole year groups sent home to isolate. Responsibility for contact tracing will pass to NHS test and trace.

But, with days before the end of term, many schools have decided to keep the bubble system rather than reorganise the school day for such a short time.

Children can still be sent home to isolate even after the bubble system ends. That means children contacted on the last day of term — potentially ruining summer holiday plans for families. It is not until August 16, when rules change again, that only children who test positive for Covid will have to isolate. There are fears that some parents will keep children off school for the final days of term in a bid to reduce the chances of being told to isolate.

School leaders said it is unclear how the new test and trace system will operate, who will be classed as a close contact and how very young children will be able to identify their own contacts without the help of the school.

Geoff Barton, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The new guidance is vague in a number of areas such as exactly how close contacts will be traced from Monday. We understand that the Government is planning to issue further information on this. But, five days from this new approach coming into force, schools and colleges are understandably anxious to know how the process will work.”

James Bowen, of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “There is a really big question which we haven’t got clarity on — will test and trace take a different approach to who is deemed a close contact than schools do? The poor headteachers are the ones on the front line trying to work out and explain to parents. There are hints that fewer children will be told to self-isolate but we don’t really have any clear criteria yet. Schools need to know this because, quite rightly, a parent might say they know their child’s friend has tested positive and ask why they have not been identified as a close contact.”

One school is known to have asked for advice from NHS test and trace after one case was found. It was told to send a whole class home, but was then advised by Public Health England not to do so.

The Evening Standard sought clarification from the Department for Education and was told that all schools that continue with bubbles must also continue contact tracing. Hours later this was corrected to say that NHS test and trace will be in charge of contact tracing in all schools from Monday.

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