MILLIONS of schoolkids in the worst-hit Covid areas will stay home for at least an extra two weeks after the Christmas holidays, it was confirmed today.
Thousands of schools in 49 hardest-hit Covid areas will remain closed because of spiralling cases – except for vulnerable kids and children of key workers.
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Expected return dates for schools
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said this afternoon he would do “everything” to keep children in school, and the majority of primary schools will reopen on Monday, January 4.
But, in nearly 50 Tier 4 areas where infection rates are highest, ALL schools will have to close, including primaries, it was confirmed tonight.
That includes most of London, Essex, Kent, and a handful of areas in Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and East Sussex – but key workers and vulnerable pupils can still attend.
These will stay closed until at least January 18 – but will be reviewed every two weeks.
Elsewhere across England – in Tiers 1, 2 and 3 and some lesser-hit Tier 4 areas – primary schools will return on January 4 as planned.
Boris Johnson told the nation tonight at an emergency press conference: “I am afraid the start of the new term will be delayed until at least January 18, when the latest data on those infection rates will be reviewed.
“That is because the rate of transmission in these areas is so high, and there’s just such pressure on the local NHS, that extra action is required to control the spread of the virus.”
And he warned: “depending on the spread of the disease it may be necessary to take further action in their cases as well, in as I say the worst affected areas.”
The Education Secretary stressed schools were only being closed “as a last resort”.
Early years like nurseries will remain open nationally, as will alternative provision and special schools.
Mr Williamson also announced the reopening of secondary schools and colleges for in-person learning will be delayed until January 18 – two weeks after the start of term was due to begin.
Students set to sit GCSEs and A-levels will return on January 11.
Students going back to university should stay home if they can – and only those who need to attend for practical learning to go back.
They should get two coronavirus tests before they do.
It comes as:
Summing up the grave situation facing the nation today, Mr Williamson said: “We must always act swiftly when circumstances change.
“The evidence about the new Covid variant and rising infection rates have required some immediate adjustment to our plans for the new term.
“The latest study we have from Public Health England is that Covid infections among children are triggered by changes in the community rate.
“The study also says that the wider impact of school closures on children’s development would be significant.
“I’m quite clear that we must continue to do all we can to keep children in school.”
The plans will be reviewed every two weeks – with no end date in sight for when they may be allowed to open.
The first starter packs of up to 1,000 test kits will only arrive at all secondary schools and colleges on 04 January – meaning schools face weeks of delays before being able to test everyone.
1,500 military personnel are on hand to help with the tests.
Full list of areas where primary schools will stay closed until further notice
- Secondary school kids’ return date is already pushed back two weeks – any schools in the below areas will be reviewed beforehand to see if they can open
- Areas with primary schools which will stay closed too are:
- Barking and Dagenham
- Hammersmith and Fulham
- Kensington and Chelsea
- Tower Hamlets
- Waltham Forest
- Epping Forest
- Castle Point
- Southend on Sea
- Tonbridge and Malling
- Tunbridge Wells
- Three Rivers
Matt Hancock has now plunged three-quarters of England into Tier 4 – meaning millions of kids are set to miss out on yet more classroom time because of the killer pandemic – and will have to learn at home.
The Health Secretary told MPs today all of the North East of England, the South West and most of the Midlands would be thrown into Tier 4.
Today’s announcement means that all of England is living under Tier 3 or Tier 4 lockdown – apart from 2,000 people living on the Isles of Scilly.
Ministers hope the extra delay to schools’ reopening will be enough to make sure they can roll out mass testing in schools. The Army is on standby.
The move comes after an almighty Cabinet row over whether or not to keep schools open amid soaring infection and hospitalisation rates.
But Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Cabinet Office boss Gove have been pressing for their closure while the second wave is brought under control.
The mutant Covid which caused London and most of South East England to be thrown into Tier 4 lockdown, could be as much as 56 per cent more contagious.
Yesterday, UCL Professor Andrew Hayward, who sits on the Government group of scientists, Nervtag, said there would need to be tougher restrictions in order to safely get kids back behind desks.
But Dr Mike Tildesley, of the Sage advisory group, said: “We must avoid falling into the situation where schools are closed for next term.
Professor Neil Ferguson, the architect of the first Covid lockdown, said that even shutting them and universities may not be enough to regain control over the new virus strain.
“Just because there is a rise in cases in that age group doesn’t mean they’re being infected in schools.”
However, Prof Ferguson said: “Nobody wants to keep schools shut. But if that’s the only alternative to having exponentially growing numbers of hospitalisations, that may be required, at least for a period.
“My real concern is, even if universities and schools do have staggered returns or even stay closed, how easy it would be to maintain control of the virus is unclear now.”
MPs have warned there could be disastrous consquences if kids spent more time out of school.
Chair of the Education Select Committee Robert Halfon lashed out at suggestions schools could be kept closed, saying it would cause an “epidemic of educational poverty”.
But London’s Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan backed the Government, saying: “With the rate of infection now dangerously high in London and hospitals battling with a surge in cases, it is the right decision to delay the reopening of London’s schools.”
Teaching unions called yesterday’s U-turn a “shambles”.
Paul Whiteman, of the National Association of Headteachers, said: “This is another last-minute mess which could so easily have been avoided if the Government had listened to school leaders.”
Meanwhile MPs’ return to Parliament has been delayed until January 11, angering many backbenchers.