Coronavirus: Should ‘bubbles’ be smaller in large Hertfordshire secondary schools?

Education officials in Hertfordshire are reflecting on the size of ‘bubbles’ in large secondary schools, in the wake of recent outbreaks of Covid-19.

Thursday, 10th September 2020, 8:48 am
Updated Thursday, 10th September 2020, 8:52 am

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

And 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 within the bubble may be asked to self-isolate for two weeks.

Should bubbles be smaller in large Hertfordshire secondary schools?

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

And, 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.”

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.”

The issue was raised in response to a question by Conservative Cllr Caroline Clapper, whose own division in Hertsmere has suffered a recent specific spike in cases – particularly in young people.

She had pointed to the differentiation in the size of bubbles between schools and asked what was being recommended to schools moving forward and what would most effectively in keeping schools up and running.

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

“I think it does depend on the circumstances of each individual school,” he said.

“The general guidance to primary schools is that they should operate class bubbles and the general guidance to secondary schools 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 occurred involving schoolchildren, but they have occurred outside school in social gatherings etc.”