The removal of centrally mandated bubbles in UK schools is a calamitous move, and one based on a gross misrepresentation of the facts.
First published in July 2021.
It is self-evident that children being allowed to mix more freely than before will increase transmission of Covid-19 and the number of sizable outbreaks within schools. This is a significant part of the heavy burden being piled onto our children, as the UK opens up, whilst they are denied the opportunity to be vaccinated.
In light of Sajid Javid’s confession that the UK may see over 100,000 new infections a day, this tinderbox of risk substantially threatens the health and well-being of our children and young people, and stands to turn their schools into super-spreading variant factories.
The Schools Operational Guidance has never recommended that whole bubbles should isolate, despite multiple claims in the media that the very existence of bubbles was to blame for the disruption being caused by the closure of year groups in primary schools.
No publicly available written policy has ever indicated that the purpose of bubbles was to dictate who should isolate when a positive case is detected: Public Health England has always decided who is defined as close contact and should isolate. We would like to suppose that their decisions have been based on contact tracing information and to limit the spread of coronavirus in the interest of public health.
Bubbles reduce the number of contacts each person in a school has, ensuring that each individual has fewer opportunities to become infected and to infect others. This simple principle has been demonstrated by the results of Imperial College London’s Real-time Assessment of Community Transmission (REACT) study, which showed that workers who are not currently required to work outside the home are 54-76% less likely to test positive for SARS-CoV-2 than those who do.
Our individual and collective risk is defined by the number of contacts we each have; this is even more important when the rates of infection in our communities are high. Thanks to the spread of the Delta variant, case numbers throughout the UK are now similar to January levels, when the UK last entered lockdown.
Far from being the time to scrap bubbles, schools and local public health teams should be given the flexibility and resources to reduce the number of people in a bubble where the local risk is high. The Department for Education claims to be committed to the stability of our children’s education by keeping schools open safely, but their persistent refusal to fund and facilitate a system in which pandemic risk management is a practical possibility shows this to be untrue.
That our school leaders hold discretion as to whether to retain a bubble system in their school is a small comfort. Head Teachers are hopefully now more aware of the impact of Long Covid in children, and its prevalence; 7% of primary age children and 8% of senior school children are known to develop the condition. There is no known cure for Long Covid at this time, there is precious little support or treatment, and the condition itself may result in serious – perhaps lifelong – disability.
If we were to make the modest assumption that a third of a 420 pupil, two-form entry primary school were to become infected, it is likely that 10 of those children would continue to suffer for at least 12 weeks, with symptoms including gastrointestinal issues, headaches, chest pain, rashes, fatigue, joint and muscle pain and weakness.
Having chosen to help children and young people get the best out of life, Head Teachers now have a unique opportunity to protect the children and young people in their care. The deleterious impact that chronic illness has on child well-being and development is witnessed first-hand by our educators, and maintaining bubbles in September will substantially reduce the number of children who suffer.
We desperately need our school leaders to grasp that opportunity.
— AUTHORS —
▫ Parents United, grassroots, parent-led campaign for a sensible, safe, and sustainable approach to UK Schools.
GET THEM INVOLVED:
- Real-time Assessment of Community Transmission findings | Imperial College London
- Schools COVID-19 operational guidance | Department for Education
- What is Long COVID? | Long COVID Kids
- Text: This piece was first published in PMP Magazine on 19 July 2021. | The authors write in a personal capacity.
- Cover: Adobe Stock/Romolo Tavani.