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'Social Bubbles' at Wolverhampton schools expected to expand when kids return in September

The summer holidays may have only just begun, but the city’s schools and early years settings are already gearing up to safely welcome back every pupil in September – for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March.

The Government has said that all pupils should return to school at the start of the autumn term, and the City of Wolverhampton Council is working closely with education providers in the city to ensure that schools and early years settings are prepared for the return of children from Tuesday 1 September. 

Councillor Dr Michael Hardacre, Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, said: “We’ve said throughout this pandemic that education is vitally important for all children and young people, and so it is good news that all children will be able to return to school in September, some for the first time in many months.

“We’ve supported our city’s schools and early years settings who are putting in a huge amount of work to safely welcome children back at the start of the autumn term, and I would like to thank everyone who has been involved in this exhaustive process.

“We have been in discussion with school leaders who are taking all the appropriate steps to ensure their places of learning are as safe and Covid-secure as possible and we anticipate that all schools in Wolverhampton will be open from the start of the autumn term.

“Notwithstanding the fact that the Government is making attendance mandatory once again from September, parents and carers should be reassured by the measures which have and continue to be taken and feel confident in allowing their children to return to school this autumn.”

The city’s schools closed to all pupils except the children of key workers and vulnerable children on 23 March. From the start of June, children in Nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 were able to return, followed by students in Years 10 and 12 mid way through the month. Most children, however, had to be home schooled until the end of the summer term.

Most schools intend to welcome all pupils back by Friday 4 September, with a small number aiming for the end of the following week. Special schools and schools with Reception and Nursery children are staggering their return over the first few weeks as part of the usual induction and transition process. All council and private nurseries, and most childminders, plan to fully reopen by September. Breakfast clubs and after school clubs will be allowed to resume. 

Class groups will increase in size from September, with the ‘bubbles’ in place in the summer term growing. In primary schools and in secondary schools at Key Stage 3, bubbles may be the size of a full class; for pupils in Key Stage 4 and Key Stage 5, bubbles are likely to be the size of a year group to enable schools to deliver the full range of curriculum subjects – though if schools can achieve this with smaller bubbles, they are encouraged to do so. Early Years settings don’t need bubbles but are encouraged to keep different age groups apart where possible.

Enhanced cleaning regimes will be in place across the city’s schools, including frequently touched surfaces, shared equipment and resources, and schools will prevent sharing of equipment like pens and pencils and have measures in place to respond quickly to infections and work with NHS Test and Trace as required.

The Government has said that school attendance will be mandatory for everyone, including those who were previously shielding, unless they are self isolating and waiting for a test result.

Councillor Hardacre added: “Our ambition is to provide a good, stable and most importantly safe education for all our children and young people. 

“Colleagues from our education, public health, health and safety, human resources and other teams have provided extensive support and advice to local schools and Early Years settings over the last few months and will continue to do so to ensure that they are in a position to safely welcome back their children this autumn.

"It’s important to remember that most children are resilient and adaptable, but we know that returning to school will be a strange experience for many pupils, particularly for those who haven't been in school since March, and parents can really help them to prepare for this. 

“Talk to them in a positive way about school, and how they will get to see their friends and teachers again. Let them know that school may seem a bit different, but that their teachers are doing everything to make sure that it is safe."

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