Secondary schools shut an extra week as primaries in hotspots to stay closed

Year 10 pupils wear face masks as a precaution at Moor End Academy in Huddersfield in September (Picture: Getty)

Secondary schools are to reopen a week later than planned in January amid a surge in cases of coronavirus, while a small number of primary schools will also remain closed.

Because the Covid infection rate is higher among secondary ages, there will be a delay in all secondary schools to allow the roll-out of mass testing.

Those in Years 11 and 13 who are preparing for exams will still be first to go back, but on January 11 rather than on January 4 as planned.

Other year groups at secondary level will return on January 18, rather than January 11 as had been planned in the staggered start.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson gave an update this afternoon, saying: ‘We must always act swiftly when circumstances change.’

He said that the majority of primary schools will open as planned on January 4, but in a ‘small number of areas’ the contingency framework will be activated so that only vulnerable children and the children of key workers will return.

This will not include all tier 4 areas, he said, and the areas will be reviewed regularly and published by the government.

Mr Williamson said: ‘We have had to make a number of changes for the new term… to keep our children and education settings are safe as we can.’

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson gave an update today (Picture: Rex)

The plan had originally been for pupils preparing for exams next year in England to return as normal, with the start of term delayed for secondary children in other years. Primary schools were due to return as normal.

But the discovery of a new variant of the virus which is more transmissible has thrown those plans into disarray.

There are fears the new strain could be more easily spread among children, and hospitals are already filling up with patients suffering from Covid-19.

Yesterday, the UK recorded the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic: over 50,000 new cases.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the priority is to ‘protect education as much as possible’.

He added: ‘But the new variant does make it much easier for this disease to transmit. So we are going to protect education as much as we can.’

Signage outside a closed West Bridgford Infants School in Nottingham on March 30 (Picture: PA)

Labour had called for Mr Williamson to make a statement to MPs on the plan for schools and colleges.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green said: ‘Coronavirus rates are rising, and parents, staff and pupils are crying out for clarity about the start of term next week. Silence from Government is not an option.’

Professor Neil Ferguson, a member of the Government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said schools staying shut may be ‘required’ if it was ‘the only alternative to having exponentially growing numbers of hospitalisations’.

Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) members Professor Andrew Hayward and Dr Mike Tildesley have also suggested a possible ‘slight delay’ to having pupils back on site.

London mayor Sadiq Khan also called for a delay to schools opening, saying: ‘With the situation in our hospitals at critical levels, ministers must take action to reduce the spread of the virus and delay the reopening of secondary schools for in-person learning for most children until later in January, with the exception of vulnerable children and the children of key workers.’

A poll by YouGov yesterday asked 7,999 adults: ‘Would you support or oppose keeping schools in England closed for two further weeks after the Christmas break?’

There was overall support among the public for keeping schools closed for longer. In total, 43% said they would strongly support it, 24% said they would somewhat support it, 10% would somewhat oppose, 9% would strongly oppose and 15% said they didn’t know.

This is a breaking story and will be updated.

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