Cabinet minister today hinted that the return to school could extend beyond early March, saying it was the “earliest possible date”.
The Cabinet Office minister replied: “That, I think, is the earliest possible date on which we can see schools return.
“We are doing everything possible in order to ensure that we meet that date and I am confident that we will.”
Pressed that it might not be March 8, the former education secretary replied: “Well none of us can predict the future with absolute accuracy but we are planning on that basis and that is what we want to achieve.
“Given the progress that we are making so far on vaccination that that should be achievable.”
Asked about reports that Education Secretary Gavin Williamson was pushing in Cabinet for an earlier return, he added: “We all want the earliest possible return of schools. That’s what we’ve all been working on collectively.”
Unions have warned that announcing “arbitrary” dates for schools had been “profoundly unhelpful” after a number of U-turns.
On Wednesday, the PM reiterated the need to give parents and teachers as much certainty as possible, including two weeks’ notice of the return of face-to-face teaching.
He told the Commons: “So I must inform the House that for the reasons I have outlined it will not be possible to reopen schools immediately after the February half-term.”
Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT-The Teachers’ Union, said: “Given previous experience, the announcement of arbitrary dates for schools to reopen to all pupils can be profoundly unhelpful to parents and to those working in schools.
“However, a clear plan for how schools will be fully reopened whenever the lockdown restrictions are lifted remains a key question which the Government must now work urgently and openly with the profession to address.”
Only vulnerable children and those whose parents are key workers have been allowed to attend school since the country’s third lockdown came into force at the start of January.