Ministers have agreed to delay the return of secondary schools by at least an extra week, it has been reported.
No10 faced questions over its plan to allow children back to classes from Monday, with the majority of kids returning to lessons a week later.
But according to TES, a new plan approved by ministers will see Year 11 and 13 exam students not return from January 4 as planned.
Only vulnerable students and children of key workers will return straight away.
Covid-19 testing in schools will commence the following week, starting on January 11.
And according to the report, all students would be back in school from the week of January 18.
The Department for Education did not deny the report, but said their position – that they want schools to return in January and that dates remained under review – had not changed.
Downing Street is not thought to have approved the plan yet.
But it’s understood Boris Johnson is chairing a meeting of the Covid-O committee this evening, and school reopening is likely to be discussed.
But the plans are not expected to be officially announced until tomorrow at the earliest.
A meeting between officials and ministers from the Department of Education, the Department of Health, the Cabinet Office and Downing Street took place yesterday.
Nervtag’s Professor Neil Ferguson told the BBC there had been a “balancing act” since lockdown was initially eased to try to keep control of the virus while maintaining “some semblance of normal society”.
He said: “This new variant has just made that more difficult, we have even less wiggle room.
“Clearly 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.
“There are no easy solutions here. My real concern is that even if universities, schools, do have staggered returns or even stay closed, how easy it would be to maintain control of the virus… is unclear now, given how much more transmissible this variant is.”
The PM’s spokesman said: “We’re still planning for a staggered opening of schools and we are working to ensure testing is in place.
“As we have said throughout the pandemic, we obviously keep all measures under constant review.”
The head of one of the UK’s biggest teaching unions called for schools to remain closed until Covid-19 testing schemes have been set up properly.
“Eminent scientists have said that schools should remain closed; that’s what unions I think have been responding to,” said Association of School and College Leaders general secretary Geoff Barton.
“None of this is to create problems because we know those tests are going to help more young people to keep from being disrupted- it’s a really good idea.”
Mr Barton welcomed the Government’s plans for soldiers to offer remote support for testing, but warned it was unlikely to be enough. “We’re educationists, we can support the Government and it is good we are going to have some members of the Army But for 3,500 secondary schools, 1,500 troops doing webinars probably isn’t the Government response that we were looking for.”
Steve Chalke, founder of Oasis, one of the largest multi-academy trusts in England, backed calls for a delayed restart after the Christmas holiday.
He told the BBC: “We would ask Government to pause, to come up with a clear strategy for the continuity of education.
“We think that means a short delay to think things through.
“We would suggest a week or two’s delay to think it through, to do it well – and we think that if you really care about kids you would do this well – to invest now, to give time now makes sense.”
Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green said: “The Government cannot continue to hide from reality and must urgently publish the scientific advice on the return of schools.
“Parents, pupils and staff are incredibly concerned about what will happen next week, with the Prime Minister governing through media leaks rather than evidence and clarity.
“The Government has lost control of the virus and children’s education is suffering as a result. It’s time for the Prime Minister to own his mistakes and be honest about whether students can return to schools and colleges in a week’s time.”