Rethink school Covid bubble rules, says SAGE expert

But head calls for consideration to be given to teachers' safety - especially for those aged under 30

Covid and schools: Rethink bubble rules, says SAGE expert

A leading expert in children’s health has said the government needs to "rethink" all Covid safety rules in schools ahead of pupils returning in September. 

Professor Russell Viner, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), said that, as all adults become vaccinated, there needed to be a reconsideration of the balance between how much Covid rules in schools protect broader society and how much they "harm children".

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he was asked whether he thought the system of bubble groups in schools was “sensible”, given that one in 30 pupils was off school last week, many of them due to a potential Covid contact within their bubble.

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He said: “I think we need to rethink all of our rules about schools, and all of our protections about schools, as we move into the new school year for a number of reasons; if all adults will be vaccinated…and can move around freely, we need to think carefully before we put restrictions on the one part of society – children – who won’t be vaccinated.

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“Let’s relook at all the evidence across all the things we do in school. Let’s look at the balance between how much they protect broader society but how much they harm children.”

Today host Nick Robinson said: “The argument presumably would be that if all vulnerable people and most adults are protected, there is no logic in trying to contain a disease which doesn’t really harm the vast majority of young people?”

Professor Viner replied: “That’s certainly a logic and I think that may be a place we get to in the next year. I don’t think it’s a place we’ll be in in September.”

Also speaking on the programme was Rotherham headteacher Pepe Diiasio, who said bubbles had enabled his school to protect the majority of pupils during Covid outbreaks, although he said it was "totally appropriate" to look at the evidence for rethinking the rules.

He said: “What we need to make sure we do is provide our families with the clarity they need on what is expected for them in terms of testing and in terms of what they do over the summer.

"We need to particularly consider our teachers – those that are under 30 – and give them some reassurance that they’re going to be safe within those environments.”

Professor Viner, who is a professor of child and adolescent health at University College London, also said that there would be a much larger capacity for pupils to undergo more accurate PCR testing in September because it wouldn’t be needed by adults.

He said: “One of the things we should be thinking about is how we use more accurate PCR tests early to make sure that we don’t isolate too many children and have this education disruption.”

Mr Diiasio said he was considering plans for mass testing in September and what types of test his schools would be using as well as how much time would be taken up at the start of term in order to make sure students can be brought back safely.

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Dave Speck

Dave Speck is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @Specktator100

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