Lambeth primary schools will have ‘bubbles’ of around six children and an adult who spend the day together on returning to classrooms in a bid to stop the spread of Covid-19.
The measure aligns with national Government guidance on schools reopening safely.
The bubble plans, along with providing PPE and learning outdoors, were set out at an overview and scrutiny meeting on Tuesday (May 19).
Committee members grilled the council leader and cabinet members over a host of issues, including how children in care were being looked after, foster care placements, free school meal vouchers, schools reopening, and children not having access to the internet or laptops.
Various conditions concerning children and young people were agreed at the end the meeting, including asking for reassurance that schools can reopen safely, addressing the digital access divide among pupils, gathering information on children who have lost out on learning, ensuring a catch-up package is created, and ensuring that the experience of children under the council’s care during the pandemic is assessed and learned from.
Councillor Ed Davie, cabinet member for children and young people, addressed concerns about schools reopening in June, and the measures being put in place to allow children back safely.
The Government has five tests that must be met to ease the lockdown, including making sure the NHS can cope, a ‘sustained and consistent’ fall in the daily death rate, the rate of infection decreasing to ‘manageable levels’, ensuring supply of tests and PPE can meet future demand, and being confident any adjustments would not risk a second peak.
The National Education Union has its own five tests, including much lower numbers of Covid-19 cases, a national plan for social distancing, more testing, a ‘whole school’ strategy that can be “strictly followed”, and protecting the vulnerable.
Cllr Davie said: “The guidance is that it’s from June 1, not on June 1.
“It’s also contingent on the Government announcing on May 28 whether its own five tests have been met or not.
“We as an administration have put down a motion supporting working with the unions around the five tests that the NEU has formulated.
“Three of these tests in the NEU are national things we don’t have much control over locally, like the number of Covid-19 infections.
“But where we do have some agency locally we are working with the NEU and other trade unions, headteachers and families, and the Lambeth School Partnership to support them to be as ready as possible to increase the number of children going to schools as quickly as possible as quickly as it is safe.”
There are already around 900 children a day attending Lambeth schools and the Government has indicated that there are only three year groups, reception, year one, and year six that they are looking at from June 1.
Cllr Davie said the legal power lies with the Secretary of State, and locally with school governors.
He laid out the actions that will be put in place to ensure children can return safely to classrooms.
“The Government has indicated correctly that it’s nearly impossible to socially distance four, five and six-year-olds from each other, and therefore we’re looking at what they’re calling a ‘bubble’ arrangement, where groups of about six children and one adult spend a school day together.
“They would obviously not be expected to be two metres away from every other individual in the bubble, but from an infection control point of view it helps limit the number of physical contacts you have with other people to six or seven individuals.
“That group of children will be kept together all day, they’d have lunch together, and they’d learn together […] which would make it more manageable.
“We’re also working with schools to develop local principles around this, trying to learn outside as much as possible because we know there’s less of an infection risk learning outside.
“Where schools don’t have a lot of their own outside space, we’ll be working with them to make sure that they have access to the nearest green space.
“We’re making sure people have PPE, not as a matter of course, but where it is advisable by our public health colleagues when they’re working with individual children that may have behavioral issues that might result in spitting or intimidate care needs,” Cllr Davie said.
More than 35 councils in England have warned the Government that not all of their primary schools will reopen on June 1, mainly over safety concerns.