School isolation rules in England likely to end in the autumn
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There are growing concerns about the rising number of children who have to quarantine because they are the contacts of confirmed cases.
The department said ministers have written to secondary schools asking them to prepare to replace isolation rules with testing.
A spokesman said: “We are provisionally asking secondary schools and colleges to prepare to offer on-site testing when students return for the new academic year, so that schools are ready in case it is needed to keep as many children as possible in face-to-face education.
“We will provide further details about the approach to protective measures and test and trace in education from September in due course.”
On Monday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said he has asked for “fresh advice” on the issue, adding that the policy is “having a huge knock-on impact” on children’s education.
“I will hopefully be able to say more on this as soon as possible,” he said.
Dame Rachel de Souza said there is an urgent need for children to get back to normal as lockdown restrictions have been a “real trauma” for many young people.
Currently children have to self-isolate for 10 days if another pupil in their bubble tests positive for coronavirus.
It has resulted in a sharp rise in pupils off school for Covid-related reasons, with the latest official figures showing 239,000 children in England missing classes – as the numbers trebled in the space of a week.
The latest figures on school attendance will be released by the Department for Education around noon on Tuesday.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Dame Rachel said the need for children to go in and out of isolation is “a really big issue” and is proving “incredibly frustrating” for pupils and teachers alike.
“With bubbles, I think everybody would like it if we could get back to normal, as soon as possible. Obviously we have to be safe, and we have to take advice, but it’s very, very restrictive,” she said.
“The experience of lockdown has been a real trauma, and I think we shouldn’t under-estimate it. Children are really troubled, and it’s right across the board.”
Dame Rachel said young people, who have seen their normal childhood disrupted in order to protect older people, are now struggling with their mental health.
“They have done a huge amount for us, I mean they really were the least at risk of this and they’ve given up 19 weeks of their education, they’ve had all this anxiety and concern and exams cancelled; they’ve taken a big burden for us,” she said.
The commissioner said that, although adults largely assume “kids are resilient, they’ll bounce back”, the results this year of a sweeping survey on British pupils, dubbed The Big Ask, showed “they are telling us that they have got these worries and we need to listen to them”.
The survey of more than 550,000 children, run by the office of the Children’s Commissioner, showed mental health was the biggest concern for 20% of respondents, a figure that rose to 40% for those aged 14-17, the Telegraph reported.
A former teacher herself, Dame Rachel said she has “real concern” for nursery-aged children and those starting school, who are at an age when they “need to be playing and learning and developing language skills” but have instead been “stuck inside for too long”.
Her warning came as official figures on Monday showed another rise in infections, with almost 23,000 lab-confirmed cases – the highest daily rise since January 30.
They came amid continuing concern over the spread of the Delta variant, with Portugal, Spain, Malta and Hong Kong announcing new restrictions on tourists from the UK.
Despite the increase, Mr Javid said there is “no reason” why the final stage of lockdown lifting in England should not go ahead as planned on July 19.
In a Commons statement, he said the country will have to “ learn to live with” the disease as there is no “zero risk” option.
Mr Hancock resigned at the weekend after admitting he had broken social-distancing rules when footage emerged of him kissing a close aide in the Department of Health and Social Care.