Saturday, December 4

Schools will not open to most pupils until middle of January

Secondary schools in England will not open to most pupils until the middle of January as ministers battle to bring the coronavirus pandemic under control.

Primary schools in a small number of areas of England where coronavirus infection rates are at their highest will also not reopen for face-to-face teaching next week, education secretary Gavin Williamson has announced.

The full list will be published by the government later today, Mr Williamson, said as he told MPs ministers must always act swiftly when circumstances change.

The announcement came less than an hour after health secretary Matt Hancock told MPs that three-quarters of the country would be placed under the tightest coronavirus restrictions from midnight tonight.

As ministers desperately try to bring the latest wave of the pandemic under control, Mr Williamson also announced that secondary schools will have to carry out mass testing when they do re-open.

Pupils in exam years will return to secondary schools in England from January 11. However, those in other years will not be back in the classroom full-time until January 18, a week later than previously announced.

Mr Williamson had led the charge within government for schools to remain open. But he told MPs that the country was facing a rapidly shifting situation.

The closure of primary schools was a last resort, he said, but one that was necessary. But he added that the overwhelming majority of primary schools will open as planned on Monday.

Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green accused the government of disrupting the education of many by announcing the change just days before many pupils were due back in the classroom.

The U-turn comes just weeks after Mr Williamson’s department threatened councils with legal action after they tried to move schools online for a few days before the Christmas break.