Schools in areas where Covid is spreading fastest to stay shut for extra 2 weeks
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Schools in Tier Four areas where Covid is spreading fastest are to remain closed for an extra fortnight after growing pressure to keep students out the classroom – but nurseries will remain open.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson set out Downing Street’s new strategy at a briefing at 4pm on Wednesday having hammered out the final details today.
A list of schools effected will be published on the government website by this evening.
But all pupils in exam years will return to secondary schools in England from January 11 while the rest of secondary and college students will go back full-time on January 18, Mr Williamson said in a U-turn on the planned reopening.
Let us know what you think about the government's stance on schools in the coronavirus crisis in the comment section below.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Williamson told MPs testing will begin "in earnest" in January, with those in exam years at the front of the queue.
He went on: "All pupils in exam years are to return during the week beginning January 11 with all secondary school and college students returning full time on January 18.
"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 and will only be open to vulnerable children and children of key workers.
"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."
Teaching unions have been calling for a delay so mass coronavirus testing of students can be set up before in-person learning resumes.
The Government had originally proposed a staggered return for secondary school pupils in the first two weeks of the New Year.
Exam-year pupils and vulnerable children would return first, with primary schools opening as usual.
But the plans have changed and the Department of Education has now proposed a longer delay in some areas in a bid to set up mass testing.
Boris Johnson is set to address the nation in a live press conference from Downing Street at 5pm on the latest developments.
Parents of younger children will be relieved to hear that nurseries are set to remain open, No.10 confirmed ahead of this afternoon's press conference.
Speaking earlier today on Radio 4, Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted that the new variant of the disease had made planning for schools more difficult.
He said: "Clearly we would want to protect education as much as possible, that has been part of our strategy, and throughout autumn I've been really pleased we've managed to protect education all the way through.
"But the new variant does make that much easier for this disease to transmit, so we are going to protect education as much as we can, and the education secretary is going to set out his proposals."
It comes after Mr Williamson attempted to take Greenwich Council, in London, to court earlier this month for asking schools to close a few days early before Christmas.
And it follows the news the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine has been given the vital sign off by the medicines watchdog in a major breakthrough for Brits.
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