Portsmouth parents warned to expect school bubble closures when new Covid cases emerge
PARENTS should be prepared for partial closures when Covid cases are detected among school pupils.
The warning about bubbles being told to isolate comes as schools embark on setting a staggered start to a return to classes.
Prime minister Boris Johnson said on Monday that all pupils would return on March 8.
But education leaders - now recognised as well-versed in infection control - have to tackle the logistics of stepping up a regime of rapid testing.
Councillor Suzy Horton, city council cabinet member for education, met headteachers yesterday and said: ‘What does come through is that there’s a real desire to see kids back in school.
‘The whole time there’s been this balance between infection control and the wellbeing and education of the kids.
‘There seems to have been a step change and a unanimous feeling that kids do need to be in school.’
But she added: ‘We’re going to be seeing cases in schools as we have done during this last lockdown.’
Secondary school pupils will be tested before returning to school and again in the first two weeks in a bid to minimise having to order whole year groups to isolate.
They will then be offered a weekly test to carry out at home in the voluntary scheme. Staff will also be tested.
Matthew Quinn, headteacher at Oaklands Catholic School in Waterlooville, said he will need to carry out 500 lateral flow tests in the first week of term - up from the current 60 a week with key workers’ children.
He needs 16 to 20 volunteers per testing shift, with three shifts a day in the first week.
‘Testing is the right thing to do, but it feels like the plan hasn’t been thoroughly thought through,’ Mr Quinn said.
‘I’ve got to test 500 people, and guidance says that they can’t go back into classrooms until they get the result. Where can they go in this time slot? This could put huge pressure on parents.’
Oaklands is running a staggered return to classes, with many schools following suit.
Headteacher Stewart Vaughan, who leads Priory School in Southsea, told parents he hopes to give return details by the ‘start of next week at the very latest’.
He added: ‘What we can be confident of is the need to significantly increase our testing capacity for when our students return.’
Testing is set to start next week at St Edmund’s Catholic School in Landport, and headteacher Simon Graham has outlined his plan to parents.
Rapid lateral flow testing will be carried out in the week before pupils return, and then again in the first and second weeks of return.
Pupils in Year 8, 9 and 10 will stay at home on March 8 at the Landport school as it welcomes back Year 7 and 11.
All pupils will be back in school by the next day.
In the letter Mr Graham said: ‘I am sure that like myself you are looking forward to our children returning to school and to some normality in our lives.
‘However, it is essential that students follow the school rules, social distancing measures where possible and good hygiene.
‘There were numerous times last term where students congregated after school and mixed with other year groups.’
Leaders at the academy trust that runs Brune Park and Bay House secondary schools in Gosport, said 'there is much to consider' ahead of pupils returning.
A statement said: ‘We will have these set up, but in line with government advice, this means that the testing and return of pupils will need to be carefully planned in order to manage the number of pupils passing through the test site at any one time.’
The trust is working out how to phase the testing but added it was ‘extremely grateful’ to its team of community volunteers carrying out the testing.
Gomer and Rowner junior schools, led by the same Gosport and Fareham Multi-Academy Trust, will soon be sharing ‘the detailed plans’ for a return to school.
‘We recognise that the news, regarding pupils returning to school, will generate mixed emotions for our families,’ a statement said.
‘We have really valued the support of the community during this most recent lockdown and remain committed to working with them.’
Primary pupils will not be tested as in secondary schools.