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New protocol could see bubbles and home-schooling re-introduced to Suffolk schools with rising Covid-19 cases

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Home-schooling, bubbles and staggered school days could be re-introduced in Suffolk schools with climbing Covid-19 cases under a new protocol.

A new school protocol for tackling coronavirus cases in schools takes effect from this week, which comprises suggested measures based on three levels of infection numbers.

Suffolk County Council’s children’s services and public health teams have developed the plan, which they stress is ‘advice and cannot be mandated’, but contains recommended actions.

Endeavour House. Picture: Suffolk County Council.
Endeavour House. Picture: Suffolk County Council.

Level one is the current level at all establishments, regardless of whether they have any cases.

That includes only essential visitors and use of face coverings by students and staff in between classes.

Level two recommends school leaders consider re-introducing bubble arrangements, staggered start and end times for classes or the school day, internal contact tracing or daily lateral flow testing in secondary schools for a minimum of five days.

Level three says ‘if chains of transmission are not broken by all above measures, consider attendance restrictions as last resort’, which suggests ‘affected class or group to move to home learning for as short a period of time as possible, but with on-site provision remaining for vulnerable children and key worker children’.

Some measures differ between early years settings, primary schools and secondaries.

The council’s protocol says that any measures should ‘affect the minimum number of children for the shortest time’ and added that it was ‘to ensure face-to-face education is maintained as far as possible across all educational settings and minimise disruption to students’ education’.

The new protocol is set to be reviewed every two weeks.

The trigger for level two is when five-14 people likely to have mixed closely test positive within a 10-day period, or if 10-29 per cent of a defined group of students and staff likely to have mixed closely test positive within the same timeframe.

The level three threshold is 15 or more students and staff or 30 per cent or more of a defined group likely to have mixed closely who test posiive within a 10-day timeframe.

Mixing closely could be a class, a friendship group or a school club, but the document stressed those thresholds applied to ‘a defined group that are likely to have mixed closely and not to the whole school’.

It means that whole schools returning to bubbles or working from home were unlikely.

Introducing those measures must be agreed at an incident management team meeting or with the council’s Covid support team.

The guidance does not apply to higher education settings as outbreaks at those are managed on a case-by-case basis, the council said.

The protocol said: “The purpose of this document is to provide clear and consistent recommendations for when additional Covid-19 control measures in Suffolk childcare and educational settings should be introduced, stepped-up and stepped-down.

“From 15 November 2021 a three-level stepped up approach is proposed with different control measures at each level and differences between early years, primary, and secondary school and college settings.”

Any bubbles are ‘generally only being advised in early years and primary school settings as not feasible to introduce in secondary schools on short notice’, the report said, but said schools’ individual outbreak plans should cover the possibility that bubbles may be necessary.

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