Pressure grows on PM over plans to reopen England's schools

24 January 2021, 22:24 | Updated: 25 January 2021, 15:22

It is not clear when schools will open again
It is not clear when schools will open again. Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

Tory MPs are increasing pressure on the Prime Minister to set out plans to fully reopen England's schools, after the Health Secretary said he "hopes" they will allow pupils back by Spring.

The Government has declined to put a date on when students can return to in-person learning as the country endures its third lockdown to combat the spread of Covid-19.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is expected to make an announcement on the topic this week - with many speculating that schools will be told to remain closed after February half-term.

An urgent question on the matter is being raised in the Commons this afternoon.

The pandemic has so far wreaked havoc on the education of millions of children, with schools being closed for a large proportion of last year and exams being cancelled.

Read more: Health Secretary 'hopes' schools will reopen by Easter

Read more: Daily Covid testing in schools paused amid emergence of new variant

More disruption is expected throughout 2021 as well, with GCSE and A-level exams already being axed in favour of teacher graded assessments.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Sunday said the nation was a "long, long, long way" off from coming out of lockdown, and the "incredibly high" case numbers meant the NHS remained under intense pressure.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is expected to make an announcement on the topic this week
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is expected to make an announcement on the topic this week. Picture: PA

"There is early evidence that the lockdown is starting to bring cases down but we are a long, long, long way from being low enough because the case rate was incredibly high," he said.

"You can see the pressure on the NHS - you can see it every day."

READ MORE: Vaccines may not stop Covid spread, warns Van Tam

Mr Hancock also said teachers have a "good shout" of being high on the coronavirus vaccine priority list once the most clinically vulnerable have received their jabs.

He added it was important to break the chains of transmission, but that those at highest risk of death needed to be protected first.

It comes following reports of proposals for mass vaccination programmes for education staff over the February half-term.

Speaking on LBC's Swarbrick on Sunday, former health secretary Lord Lansley said he thinks the current restrictions will be in place until May, with indoor mixing a “long time” off.

Lord Lansley, who was health secretary from 2010-2012, told Tom Swarbrick: “The national lockdown is going to last until May. Why would it not?”

Schools will be the first to return, he predicted, but said he expects this not to be “until the end of March”, when all those over 50 have been vaccinated.

“The risk of course is that we get to Easter, we have done those vaccinations for the over 50s but the pressure on the NHS hasn’t abated because there is a time lag between the number of cases we are experiencing and the pressure on the NHS,” he continued.

“That is what makes me think we are looking at late April rather than Easter.”