Some primary schools in England will not reopen to all pupils next week as planned, it has been announced.
Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, revealed the news on Wednesday 30 December, and it was later confirmed by Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, in an evening briefing.
"In secondary schools all vulnerable children and children of critical workers will go back next week across England as originally planned, but we will ask exam year pupils in secondary to learn remotely during the first week of term and return to the classroom from January 11," said Johnson.
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"The remaining secondary school pupils – non-exam groups – will go back a week later, that is from January 18."
However, the Prime Minister highlighted that these plans could still change, depending on the spread of Covid-19.
"I want to stress that depending on the spread of the disease it may be necessary to take further action in their cases as well in the worst affected areas," he said.
'Closures will be as short as possible'
On 31 December, Williamson told BBC Breakfast he wanted school closures to be “as short as possible."
“We are having to take these steps on public health advice," he explained.
The Education Secretary also said he was confident schools will be ready to administer Covid tests to pupils returning to face to face learning from 11 January.
"There’s absolutely no reason that schools won’t be ready," he commented, arguing that £78 million of additional funding, equipment such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and support from the military would help schools to set up mass testing programmes quickly.
"We really want to hold their hands, support them, help them. We’re asking everyone right across the country to do pretty extraordinary things at the moment," said Williamson.
School areas which will be affected
According to the Press Association, these are the areas where it is expected that primary schools will not open as planned next week to all pupils:
- London - Barking and Dagenham, Barnet, Bexley, Brent, Bromley, Croydon, Ealing, Enfield, Hammersmith and Fulham, Havering, Hillingdon, Hounslow, Kensington and Chelsea, Merton, Newham, Redbridge, Richmond-Upon-Thames, Southwark, Sutton, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest, Wandsworth, Westminster
- Essex - Brentwood, Epping Forest, Castle Point, Basildon, Rochford, Harlow, Chelmsford, Braintree, Maldon, Southend on Sea, Thurrock
- Kent - Dartford, Gravesham, Sevenoaks, Medway, Ashford, Maidstone, Tonbridge and Malling, Tunbridge Wells, Swale
- East Sussex - Hastings, Rother
- Buckinghamshire - Milton Keynes
- Hertfordshire - Watford, Broxbourne, Hertsmere, Three Rivers
'I want to see schools opening at the earliest possible opportunity'
Attempting to explain the reasoning behind the Government’s plans to reopen a proportion of primary schools despite surging coronavirus cases, Williamson told Sky News: "The work that was done with the Department of Health who identified areas where it was either a very high rate or, using their latest data, were seeing very sharp increases in the number of cases or equally the pressures on hospitals in that area and the clinical needs.
"These were all the considerations that were taken into account but what I want to say, and this will come as no surprise to you whatsoever, I want to see schools, any school, that’s closed for those first two weeks, opening at the earliest possible opportunity."
Asked whether he apologised to parents, teachers and children for the notice given for the measures, Mr Williamson said: "I think we all recognise that if we go back a few weeks where there was no new variant of Covid, none of us would have been expecting us to be having to take the actions, whether it’s in regards to schools, whether it’s in regards to Tier 4 moves that the Government has had to make, but it’s the Government that’s having to respond at incredible pace to a global pandemic and then a new variant of that virus.
"It’s not what any of us would want to do, it’s not a decision that any of us would be wanting to have to implement, but we’ve had to do that because circumstances have dictated it.
"I think the British public expect the Government to do what is right and even though that is sometimes uncomfortable, it is taking the right actions, dealing with these extraordinary times."
When will schools reopen?
A decision on whether shut schools should reopen “will obviously be guided by the public health advice,” Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said.
Responding to Conservative MP Felicity Buchan (Kensington), Mr Williamson said: “After the two-week period there will be a review.
“Our obvious hope and desire is to see that those areas that are in the contingency frameworks would be moving out of that.
“We will obviously be guided by the public health advice and the scientific advice that is available to us.”