Gavin Williamson has confirmed that key restrictions on education and childcare will come to an end when the UK is expected to reach its fourth and final step out of lockdown on 19 July.
The secretary of state for education said that the current system of “bubbles” and isolation in schools will end when England reaches step four of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown.
Williamson acknowledged that the “bubble” system – which has led to large numbers of pupils being sent home from school if a single child tests positive for Covid – is causing disruption, and that children are “better off” in classrooms.
The government had made the decision in order to “balance the need to keep children safe at the same time as giving them the education they deserve and need,” Williamson said.
Instead of “bubbles”, the government will transfer responsibility for contact tracing to NHS Test and Trace for schools and colleges, and early year settings.
Williamson said that where there are outbreaks, schools and colleges may be contacted by the NHS system and they will work with local health authorities.
From 16 August, children will only have to isolated if they test positive for Covid-19, the education secretary added.
It will not longer be necessary for schools and colleges to stagger start and finish times when the UK reaches step four, but they can continue with these measures “until the end of the summer term, if they so wish”, Williamson said.
When the UK reaches the end of the roadmap, there will also no longer be any restrictions on in-person teaching in universities.
The education secretary said that some protective measures relating to hygiene and ventilation will remain place into the Autumn school term at the end of September, when the government will review.
This includes two on-site Covid tests that schools will be asked to give their pupils at the start of term in September, and home testing will continue until the government review at the end of that month.
It comes after education officials, teachers and parents called for the system to end to prevent the days of missed lessons and unpredictable childcare demands it was causing as Delta variant coronavirus cases continued to rise.
Last week the “bubble” system saw more than 375,000 children sent home, and over the last month the number of pupils sent home for Covid-related reasons quadrupled – despite only 4 per cent having confirmed cases of the virus themselves.