Home schooling may return in Suffolk if Covid cases spiral

Home schooling

Home schooling could be reintroduced in Suffolk this winter - Credit: Jane Curry

Parents are being warned home schooling could be back if there are serious outbreaks of Covid in Suffolk this winter.

As part of a new three-tier system being introduced across the county, schools will be asked to introduce varying measures depending on the number of cases they have reported.

The new school protocol, developed by Suffolk County Council’s children’s services and public health teams, comes into effect from this week.

The teams stress the strategy "advice and cannot be mandated", but contains recommended actions.

Level one is the base level, and is applied to all schools with minimal or no cases.

The measures include allowing only essential visitors into school, and the use of face coverings by students and staff in between classes at secondary schools.

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.

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Level three says "if chains of transmission are not broken by all above measures, consider attendance restrictions as last resort", meaning "affected class or group 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 5-14 people likely to have mixed closely test positive within a 10-day period, or if 10-29% 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% or more of a defined group likely to have mixed closely who test positive 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.

Schools will only move between tiers if there has been an incident management team meeting or a meeting 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 states: “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."