It is requested that the return of the students be postponed until the end of January after the discovery of a new variant

Political reporter
@ GregHeffer

The government is pushing plans for elementary school children and older secondary school children to return to classrooms next week, despite calls for a delay following the discovery of the new variant of COVID

Officials from Number 10 and the Department of Education were due to meet Monday to discuss the impact on schools after the new variant of coronavirus was shown to be spreading faster than the original strain

Millions more people in England put Tier 4 restrictions in place on Boxing Day after ministers tried to curb infection rates – although schools can remain open under the highest COVID measures

It was requested that the return of students after the Christmas break – including union teachers – be postponed until the end of January Scientists have warned that only closing schools and universities will curb infection rates

But Cabinet minister Michael Gove told Sky News that the government was sticking to its plan for the time being to have students from April 4th Should return January on a staggered schedule

“Our plan is for elementary schools to return, but secondary schools will only be for 11th grade children next week and 13 Great – the ones who do their GCSEs, their BTECs, their A-Levels – these are going to be back, “he said

“And also children of key workers and vulnerable children who need the support and care schools can provide

When asked if the government could be flexible in its plans for the schools to return, Mr. Gove reiterated the government’s plan to reopen schools with improved testing from next week

“But teachers and principals have worked incredibly hard over the Christmas season since the schools closed to prepare for a new testing regime – community testing to make sure children and we are all safer.

Urged when asked whether the government is still required to hold exams in England this summer – even though they have been scrapped in Wales and Scotland – Mr Gove said, “Yes, absolutely”

A recent paper by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine on the new variant of COVID warned that even measures similar to the second national lockdown across England in November – which kept schools open – “unlikely” are to reduce the infection rate to below one “unless elementary schools, secondary schools and universities are also closed”

Both London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Conservative mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey have called for schools to reopen later than planned in January

NASUWT, the teachers’ union, wrote to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson on Monday urging him to allow schools “to restrict local care to students who are considered vulnerable, along with children of frontline / key workers and such restrictions apply to schools and colleges serving communities in the highest grade areas “

It was reported on the Politico website that the government’s Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE) – led by Sir Patrick Vallance, Senior Scientific Adviser – has urged ministers to keep secondary schools closed for the next month to to dampen the rise in infections

And the infectious disease expert, Dr Bharat Pankhania, senior clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter, has called on the government to put in place “contingency plans” in case the new variant of COVID is found to be more contagious in younger age groups

He said the problem was a ‘big problem’ and added, ‘If this is the case – we’ll see when the schools open – we need to have contingency plans now if this comes true

“This way we will continue education remotely and keep children safe without increasing the R number””

Labor called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Sir Patrick and England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, to attend a press conference on Downing Street on Monday to address concerns about the return of schools

Kate Green, secretary for shadow education, said: “The government is not being honest with parents and students about the return of schools in January

“Parents, students and staff will be increasingly concerned about the drip feed of media reports that scientists recommended schools close in January but the prime minister was not clearly informed of the advice he received

“Labor recognized that student learning should be a national priority, but a litany of government failures, from lack of funding for security measures to the belated and chaotic announcement of mass tests, puts young people’s education in the spotlight Foreground risk “

Conservative MP Robert Halfon, chairman of the House of Commons Education Committee, has urged the government to “do everything possible to keep schools open”

As he wrote in the Sunday Telegraph, he warned there was “no panacea for educational deprivation,” adding, “Thanks to the genius of science, the march of new diseases like COVID can be stopped

“But there will never be a vaccine against the missed opportunity and the destroyed life chances of a generation”

A government spokesman said: “We would like all students to return in January as school is the best place for their development and mental health, but as the Prime Minister has said, it is right that we follow the path of the pandemic and keep our approach up to date

“Our huge expansion of rapid tests will help secondary schools and colleges remain open to all students and reduce the risk of transmission within local communities”

© 2020 Sky UK

Michael Gove

World News – UK – COVID-19: The government is sticking to the plan that the schools return from next week, Michael Gove told Sky News