Schools could remain closed after February half-term holiday as announcement expected this week
Boris Johnson is under growing pressure from Tory MPs to reopen schools in England amid warnings that children have become the “forgotten victims” of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Prime Minister has always said that his first priority would be to fully reopen schools – which are currently only taking vulnerable children and the children of key workers – once the disease was brought under control.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is widely expected to confirm this week that there will be no return to the classroom after the February half-term break as ministers had hoped.
Over the weekend, Health Secretary Matt Hancock refused to guarantee that they would be back before Easter, saying that infection rates would need to come down further.
While the vaccine rollout was making “brilliant progress”, he said the NHS remained under intense pressure and that any general easing of lockdown restrictions in England was a “long, long, long way” off.
His comments were met with frustration among Tory MPs who had hoped that the vaccination programme would enable the controls to be eased from early March, by which time the most vulnerable groups should have received the jab.
Rob Halfon, the chairman of the Commons Education Committee, said he had written to Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle asking him to summon a minister to Parliament on Monday for an urgent question.
“The whole engine of the state must do everything possible to get our schools open after half-term as was originally proposed,” he told the Guardian.
“If it means priority vaccinations for teachers and support staff then it is worth it because despite the efforts of individual teachers and support staff who are doing their best we are facing an epidemic of mental health problems and educational poverty.”
Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield has said families need “hope and clarity” about what will come next for children’s education and has called on ministers to set out at Downing Street press conferences what progress is being made towards reopening.
Ms Longfield warned that the closure of schools has had an “enormous impact” on children – affecting their mental health and widening the gap in learning.