Schools are “bleeding out” from the bubble system, council leaders have said as they warn the policy could be leaving the most vulnerable children at risk of serious harm.

Ministers have been urged to stop dithering and bring an end to the bubble system, whereby the whole class, or even year groups, of pupils are sent home for 10 days each time a child tests positive.

The policy is now coming under attack from local council chiefs and headteachers, as well as politicians and the Children’s Commissioner.

Gerard Jones, director of children and young people at Oldham Council, said the town was struggling to keep schools open, with about 15 per cent of the whole school population stuck at home isolating.

“What we’re getting from the Government is ‘be patient’ and the Department for Education has just refused to say very much about it at all. Meanwhile, we’re bleeding out here,” he told The Guardian.

Mr Jones said that youngsters could be exposed to dangers far worse than Covid if they are kept at home for prolonged periods of time.

Campaign for Children: Education: The days lost

“What we saw during the last lockdown was a lot of children come to harm because they were not being seen at school, so we always worry about that,” he said, as he called on ministers to act now rather than leave it until the end of the summer holidays.

“This is not just an issue Oldham is facing, but is being seen across Greater Manchester with thousands of pupils affected. Northern kids are at risk of being left behind – when exams do go ahead, children from wealthier boroughs will have had far more schooling,” he added.

“If this government is serious about levelling up, they need to put their hands in their pockets and give us the resources to help these children now.”

His comments were echoed by Cllr Anne Galloway, Bolton Council’s cabinet member for children’s services, who said the disruption was “unfair” on children.

“This disruption can’t carry on with children going into another academic year,” she told The Telegraph.

“It’s not a level playing field around the country. There are some parts of the country completely unaffected by Covid rates. We did press our case to the Government that the disruption is incredibly bad for Bolton school children.

“When children are not medically affected and there are no hospitalisations, there has got to be some kind of mitigations for this. It’s part of the learning to live with Covid.”

Hospitalisations and cases relative to the highest point in the pandemic, Bolton

Bolton has had one of the highest rates of Covid in the country. By the end of last month, almost one in three secondary pupils in Bolton were being forced to self-isolate at home, as well as one in five primary pupils.

Headteachers have also described the current system as a “shambles”, with the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) accusing the Government of attempting to “scapegoat” schools.

Writing for the Times Education Supplement magazine, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL, said attempting to blame schools for the chaos is “frankly, appalling” when they are merely following official guidance.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We are grateful to everyone who works in education for their tireless work over the course of the pandemic – and for following safety measures to protect public health while maintaining high-quality teaching for pupils.

“We recognise the disruption that a minority of schools and colleges continue to face, which is why we are working across government to relax restrictions and provide clarity on the new approach in line with the wider move to step 4 of the roadmap.”

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Children lockdown mental health callout/form