With almost all Covid-19 measures set to be lifted in England from 19 July, it has been announced the use of “bubbles” in schools and colleges will also be scrapped.

The Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, also told MPs that from August 16 children will only need to self-isolate if they have tested positive for Covid-19.

His comments came after Covid-related pupil absence in schools in England hit a new record high since classes fully returned in March.

‘The have given up so much’

In addition to ending bubbles Mr Williamson announced today that it will “not be necessary to stagger start and finish times” at schools.

He told the Commons: “We recognise that the system of bubbles and isolation is causing disruption to many children’s education. That is why we’ll be ending bubbles and transferring contact tracing to the NHS Test and Trace system for early years settings, schools and colleges.”

Mr Williamson added: “I do not think it is acceptable that children should face greater restrictions over and above those of wider society, especially since they have given up so much to keep older generations safe during this pandemic.”

But the Education Secretary said “some protective measures” – such as enhanced hygiene and ventilation – will remain in place for the autumn term.

He told MPs: “Secondary schools and colleges will be asked to provide two on-site tests to their students at the start of term, with regular home testing continuing until the end of September, when this will be reviewed.”

‘The way forward is testing - not bubbles’

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “On the damage to children’s education, we are really doing everything we can to minimise that, a massive catch up plan as you know, but I think what a lot of people, a lot of parents and teachers and pupils, want to see is a different approach to outbreaks in schools.

“The Secretary of State for Education will be announcing later this week how we are going to move away from sending bubbles home and moving away from contact isolation for pupils to greatly reduce the impact on schools, of Covid outbreaks in those schools.

“Obviously the way forward is by testing rather than send bubbles home.”

‘A different system’

It was revealed at the end of June that ministers were planning to make big changes to the current school system, and instead turn to mass testing in schools to avoid sending large bubbles of students home should one test positive for the virus.

Figures showed that in England in June, a quarter of a million children missed school in a single week due to Covid-19 infections, self-isolation requirements and school closure.

Last week, under the current system, more than 370,000 children were sent home from school.

A senior government source told The Guardian: “We will have a different system when schools return in September which combines proportionate protections when someone tests positive with trying as much as possible to keep schools open.”