Should COVID-19 ‘bubbles’ be smaller in Hertfordshire’s larger schools?

PUBLISHED: 17:22 09 September 2020 | UPDATED: 06:30 10 September 2020

The size of bubbles in Hertfordshire's schools is now being questioned. Picture: Archant

The size of bubbles in Hertfordshire's schools is now being questioned. Picture: Archant

Archant

Education officials in Hertfordshire are reflecting on the size of COVID ‘bubbles’ in large secondary schools, in the wake of recent outbreaks of the coronavirus.

Pupils are grouped into ‘bubbles’ within all schools, as part of a package of measures to reduce any spread of the virus within schools.

They remain within these bubbles – typically a single class in primary schools and a year group in secondary schools – throughout the day.

Should there be an ‘outbreak’ of COVID-19 within a bubble, pupils may be asked to self-isolate for two weeks – as has been the case in Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield today, with whole year groups being sent home after positive tests.

READ MORE: Year group at Stanborough School to study from home for two weeks after confirmed coronavirus case

But with some Hertfordshire secondary schools having year groups of up to 270 pupils, education officials are starting to question whether that is too big.

At a meeting of the county council’s education, libraries and localism cabinet panel on Tuesday September 7, head of school standards and accountability Tania Rawle said the issue was being considered.

“Schools are best placed to determine what the size of the bubbles should be,” said Ms Rawle.

“However one of the things we are learning over the last few weeks – and schools will be also learning this – is that some of the bubbles in some of the secondary schools are quite large.

“So, if you get a positive case in one of those bubbles, you may have a lot of children being sent home to self-isolate for two weeks.

“And that may repeat itself a number of times throughout the year, which obviously will impact on children’s education.”

READ MORE: Hatfield school confirms coronavirus case and sends year group home to self-isolate

She said the issue had now been highlighted and they would be ‘thinking’ about it and talking to schools.

“That’s something we will start to reflect on and work with schools to see how we can support them to manage this perhaps in a different way,” she said.

“And schools themselves – in particular secondary schools – who weren’t open to so many pupils as primary schools last term will be adapting their system as they go through the learning that opening up in the first few weeks will bring.”

Earlier in the meeting operations director Simon Newland stressed that the organisation of ‘bubbles’ reflected the individual circumstances of each school.

“The general guidance to primary schools is that they should operate class bubbles,” he said.

“For secondary schools, the advice is that it is reasonable for them to operate year bubbles – but of course it depends on how a secondary school organises its teaching.

“If it organises its teaching in such a way that one half-year doesn’t have any contact with another half-year its reasonable to have half-year group bubbles.

“So I wouldn’t say that we have a definitive view – what we do do though is provide advice to schools through public health colleagues on their particular circumstances if they want to get an opinion from us as well.”

Meanwhile executive member for education, libraries and localism Cllr Terry Douris highlighted the roles schools had in impressing on their pupils the importance of safety, with regard to COVID-19.

He said: “One of the roles that schools have is to impress upon their students of all ages the importance of the social-distancing, the separation, the hand sanitising the care that they must exhibit.

“Because a lot of these incidents have not occurred in schools, as far as I am aware. They have involved schoolchildren, but they have occurred outside school in social gatherings.”


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