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Schools reopening: Year groups banned from mixing under plans for huge ‘mega bubbles’ of students

Kate Devlin
Whitehall Editor
Monday 29 June 2020 19:17 BST
Gavin Williamson announces £1 billion 'catch-up' fund for school pupils

Whole year groups are to be banned from mixing under plans for enormous ‘mega bubbles’ containing hundreds of pupils expected to be announced later this week.

Entire secondary school years would be separated, with different start and finish times and no contact in the playground, under the guidance designed to allow schools reopen fully in September.

Up to eight classes of 30 pupils each could be kept in the same protective “bubble” in a bid to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Schools could also be warned that they may have to concentrate on allowing pupils to catch up in subjects like maths and English after lockdown, and a full curriculum may not be available until next year’s summer term.

Some pupils could also have to drop some GSCE subjects altogether to allow them to achieve better grades in “core subjects”.

The guidance is expected to be set out by Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, later this week.

Mr Williamson is under intense pressure to have all children in England back in school by September, after the government was forced to U-turn on plans to have them in the classroom before the end of the summer term.

The proposals were first reported by the HuffPost website.

It is thought schools will also be told they have to continue to engage with the NHS Test and Trace system, and that whole classes or year groups could be sent home if a pupil tests positive for Covid-19.

Ministers are understood to believe that parents have got used to the idea of smaller “bubbles” in schools and that the idea can be scaled up to help all pupils return to school in September.

Around 1.5 million pupils are currently in school, after ministers announced that some year groups could return.

It was also reported that schools would be advised there was no requirement for social distancing for primary school pupils, while those at secondary would be guided to to stay 1 metre apart from each other, although not at all times.

Teachers would also be advised to remain 2 metres away from pupils, not spend more than 15 minutes with each pupil, but not wear face coverings, because they interfere with teaching.

The site also reported that children would be told to face the same direction, not sit at circular tables.

At the weekend Boris Johnson confirmed he wanted it to be compulsory again from September to send children to school. Many parents have so far decided not to send their kids to school, amid fears over the spread of the disease.

It is understood the proposals seen by HuffPost were a form of draft. The final guidance will be released later this week, sources said.

Experts warn that many children are falling behind after weeks out of the classroom. There are also concerns about how the economy will cope if parents continue to have to juggle their day job with full time care of children.

Mr Williamson told LBC that fines were one option for parents whose children do not return to school.

“Unless there is a good reason for the absence then we will be looking at the fact that we would be imposing fines on families if they are not sending their children back,” he said.

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