Covid hotspot primary schools to remain shut with secondary return delayed

30 December 2020, 16:32 | Updated: 4 January 2021, 17:06

Gavin Williamson speaks in the House of Commons
Gavin Williamson speaks in the House of Commons. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Primary schools in Covid-19 hotspots will remain closed at the start of the new term while secondary schools will not fully reopen until January 18, the Education Secretary has said.

Gavin Williamson told the House of Commons it was a "last resort" that some schools needed to temporarily close where infection rates are highest.

He said the "overwhelming majority" of primary schools will open as planned on January 4, but added: "In a small number of areas where the infection rates are highest we will implement our existing contingency framework such as only vulnerable children and children of critical workers will attend face to face."

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A list of affected areas was later published on the Government website, and included large areas of London, Essex and Kent, as well as parts of East Sussex, Buckinghamshire and Herfordshire. It is believed primary schools in these areas will remain closed until at least January 18.

For secondary schools, pupils in exam years will return on January 11, with all secondary and college students returning on January 18.

Mr Williamson said: "During the first week of term on or after January 4, secondary schools and colleges will prepare to test as many staff and students as possible.

"The 1,500 military personnel committed to supporting schools and colleges will remain on task providing virtual training and advice on establishing the testing process with teams on standby to provide in-person support if required by schools.

"Testing will then begin the following week in earnest with those who are in exam years at the head of the queue.

"This is in preparation for the full return of all pupils in all year groups on January 18 in most areas."

Mr Williamson said that only vulnerable children and children of key workers will receive face-to-face teaching in the first week of term.

The Education Secretary added that universities were being asked to reduce the number of students who return to campus at the start of January.

It comes amid growing concern from teaching unions and scientists about the spread of coronavirus following the discovery of its much more transmissible variant.

A YouGov poll conducted overnight had showed 43 per cent of 7,999 British adults surveyed would "strongly support" keeping schools in England closed for two further weeks after the Christmas break.

Just 9 per cent "strongly oppose" and 10 per cent "somewhat oppose" keeping school gates shut, YouGov said.

Labour had called for Mr Williamson to make a statement on the plan for schools and colleges, with shadow education secretary Kate Green saying "staff and pupils are crying out for clarity about the start of term next week".

London mayor Sadiq Khan said he did not want to see education of children disrupted, but due to the worsening situation in hospitals he called on ministers to "delay the reopening of secondary schools for in-person learning for most children until later in January".

Earlier this month, the Government said exam-year students would go back to school as normal after the Christmas holidays, but the majority of secondary school pupils would start the term online.

The areas in which primary schools will remain temporarily closed:

London

Barking and Dagenham

Barnet

Bexley

Brent

Bromley

Croydon

Ealing

Enfield

Hammersmith and Fulham

Havering

Hillingdon

Hounslow

Kensington and Chelsea

Merton

Newham

Redbridge

Richmond upon Thames

Southwark

Sutton

Tower Hamlets

Waltham Forest

Wandsworth

Westminster

Essex

Brentwood

Epping Forest

Castle Point

Basildon

Rochford

Harlow

Chelmsford

Braintree

Maldon

Southend on Sea

Thurrock

Kent

Dartford

Gravesham

Sevenoaks

Medway

Ashford

Maidstone

Tonbridge and Malling

Tunbridge Wells

Swale

East Sussex

Hastings

Rother

Buckinghamshire

Milton Keynes

Hertfordshire

Watford

Broxbourne

Hertsmere

Three Rivers

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