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.
A dozen Conservative MPs have signed up to the “UsforThem” campaign to get schools opened up as soon as possible.
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.
Matt Hancock says he ‘hopes’ Covid-hit schools will be able to reopen by Easter
“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.”
“We genuinely seem to have forgotten about the children,” she told The Daily Telegraph.
“Millions of them are missing out on an education, not developing socially with their friends and aren’t allowed to enrich their lives by playing sports and music any more.
“They are the pandemic’s forgotten victims and we’ve got to start thinking about their prospects and futures as well.”
Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green said: “Getting pupils back in the classroom safely must be a national priority, and it is time for the Government to work with the profession to develop a credible plan to make this happen.”
Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield told The Sun: “The first lockdown caused a huge rise in the number of children with serious mental health issues and widened gaps in learning, particularly for the most disadvantaged. Closing schools is bad for children.”
“The Education Secretary was right to say he hoped to have all children back in the classroom before Easter.
“If that is to happen, the Government will need to make sure primary schools start going back after the next half-term.”
Mother-of-two Rachel Bird, of Bromley, south London, also told the paper: “The Government must get schools open for all children — their education and well-being cannot continue to be sacrificed.”
Boris Johnson is “as keen as possible” to get children back into school for face-to-face learning as soon as possible, Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey has said.
She told Sky News: “I’m conscious the Education Secretary set out last week the approach that of course families and schools would be informed two weeks in advance.
“But the important (thing) is that we follow the evidence, that the infection rates get back under control, and meanwhile remote learning is continuing – but I am conscious of the pressure this brings on families at this time.”
She added: “The Prime Minister is as keen as possible to try and get back to face-to-face learning as quickly as possible.”
A Department for Education spokesman added: “We continue to keep plans for the return to school under review and will inform schools, parents and pupils of the plans ahead of February half term.”
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.
It brings the total death toll since the pandemic began to 97,939, however death statistics at weekends and on Mondays in the UK tend to be lower due to a reporting lag.
“It’s not a matter of logistics, the logistics can be organised. The challenge is the supply of vaccine, supply is the rate limiting factor,” the Health Secretary told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday.
“The question is who should have each dose as it comes in… and we’ve taken the decision, quite rightly, to go through in order of clinical need, starting with those who are most likely to die from this disease.
“Teachers have got a good shout to be very high on the list and those discussions are going on.”