Boris Johnson has urged parents to be “patient” over the possible scrapping of school bubbles.
The PM said he understands the “frustration” over entire school bubbles being sent home at any one time, but that a review by Public Health England into using testing over isolation remains ongoing.
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Mr Johnson‘s comments came as the PM faced renewed pressure from his own backbench MPs to end the bubble system when remaining coronavirus restrictions in England are expected to be lifted later this month.
Former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith is among 48 MPs who have signed a letter to the PM calling for the “unsustainable” and “disproportionate” policy to be removed.
The letter says schools should “go back to normal” when lockdown is fully lifted – planned for 19 July – even if it is only “for the last few days of term” before the summer.
Other signatories include Tory chairman of the Education Select Committee Robert Halfon and Conservative former minister Esther McVey.
It came as government figures released earlier this work show the number of children off school due to COVID-19 in England is at its highest rate since schools reopened in March.
Data released by the Department of Education suggests 5.1% of all pupils in state-funded schools did not attend school for COVID-related reasons on 24 June – a total of 375,000 children.
This is up from 3.3% on 17 June and 1.2% on 10 June.
The 48 backbench MPs say pupils have suffered “unnecessary and significant disruptions” to their schooling to protect others, including “catastrophic learning loss”.
“Children need normality, security and certainty. If we are to have a hope of levelling up and building back better, we must restore children’s school lives to normal so they can recover their health, wellbeing, education and their futures,” the letter states.
Speaking during a visit to the Nissan plant in Sunderland, the PM said “They [Public Health England] haven’t concluded yet, so what I want to do is just to be cautious as we go forward to that natural firebreak of the summer holidays when the risk in schools will greatly diminish… and just ask people to be a little bit patient.”
On Wednesday, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson suggested the school bubbles system will end when pupils return after the summer holidays in September.
“I do not think it is acceptable that children should face greater restrictions over and above those of wider society – especially since they have given up so much to keep older generations safe over the last 18 months,” he said.
“Further steps will be taken to reduce the number of children who have to self-isolate, including looking at the outcomes of a daily contact testing trial, as we consider a new model for keeping children in schools and colleges.
“We constantly assess all available data and we expect to be able to confirm plans to lift restrictions and bubbles as part of step four.
“Once that decision has been made, we’ll issue guidance immediately to schools.”
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