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Covid bubble system in schools is not working, council is told

Committee chair says his son's class has been shut down more than once

30 October, 2020 — By Richard Osley

Labour councillor Awale Olad

EDUCATION chiefs have been told that the “bubble” system being used by schools to divide up children during the coronavirus crisis is “dysfunctional”.

A host of schools across Camden have had to ask pupils to stay at home due to Covid-19 infections since they returned to classrooms in September. To avoid having to shut down entire schools every time a single positive case is reported, only families whose child is in the same “bubble” are affected.

The bubbles learn, eat and play together without mixing with the rest of the school. But Labour councillor Awale Olad, chair of Camden’s Covid-19 oversight committee which has been tasked with monitoring the local response to the pandemic, said the system needed looking at.

He said: “My son has been very unlucky – since March he has only managed six weeks at school just because every time the schools have been open, there’s a Covid positive child in his bubble and it means the place gets shut down for a couple of weeks. It just seems, in my view, to be dysfunctional, where classes keep getting closed down.”

He added: “It just seems to be on a repetitive trajectory, which means some kids end up going to school a lot less than other kids, just depending on how lucky you are with who gets an infection in your school.”

Cllr Olad was speaking at a meeting of his committee last Wednesday and said there needed to be a schools testing regime in which “we can just extract the kids who are infected and ensure that other kids who aren’t infected are allowed to carry on with their education”. He said he wanted to know if there was “any light at the end of the tunnel” on the issue.

But Camden’s supporting people director Martin Pratt warned there was no easy answer to the closing of school bubbles.

“We are trying to strike a balance between res­ponding to a public health crisis and keeping schools open. The decisions that are taken in schools are not local decisions in the sense that there is national guidance issued based on scientific evidence,” he said, adding that children were being helped to learn from home when their bubbles were stopped from going into school.

Mr Pratt, the council’s deputy chief executive, told the meeting: “We have to get testing and tracing right. There’s obviously been progress and I’m pleased we have been able to get additional testing capacity for teachers where they are suspected to be infected.”

He added: “I think the response to the entire pandemic is going to obviously take a good deal of time and what we have to do is try and prioritise within that those things that are most important. My argument would be that the continued education of children is a priority.”

‘A long, hard winter’ ahead

CAMDEN’S schools face a “long, hard winter” as they attempt to keep classes going amid the coronavirus crisis, the council’s deputy chief executive has warned.

Martin Pratt told a committee meeting last week: “When I talk to our headteachers and teachers… I look at them at the moment and they look like they usually do in the second week of December, not the second week of October. They are very much ready for half term.”

He said Tier 2 restrictions might slow the infection rate but added: “I can’t see a great deal of light at the end of the tunnel at the moment.”

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