The Prime Minister wants to reopen all classrooms on March 8 and is expected to announce the proposal when he reveals his roadmap out of lockdown tomorrow.
But teaching unions are fighting for a phased return to class on safety grounds and have called for teachers and school staff to jump the vaccine queue.
However Sir Keir today said he wanted all pupils in England back in school on March 8.
He told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday that more coronavirus testing and ‘Nightingale classrooms’ could address some of the issues.
Sir Keir said: ‘Ideally, I would like to see all schools back open on March 8 and all children back into schools on March 8.
Sir Keir today said he wanted all pupils in England back in school on March 8. He told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday that more coronavirus testing and ‘Nightingale classrooms’ could address some of the issues
All pupils will return to school on March 8 and care home residents in England will each be allowed one regular visitor
Health Secretary Matt Hancock again rejected calls for teachers to be given priority in the vaccine queue before schools return
When are schools expected to open across Britain?
Boris Johnson has repeatedly said the Government will target March 8 to reopen schools across England.
But it is still unclear exactly how the reopening will work, with the PM due to unveil his lockdown exit roadmap on Monday.
The PM is said to want to see all pupils return on the same day but some union bosses are adamant there should be a phased return to classrooms, with the Health Secretary also said to be advocating a cautious approach.
The First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed on February 16 that schools in Scotland will begin a phased reopening from Monday.
Pupils between the ages of four and eight will be the first to return to classes on that date.
No other pupils will return until at least 15 March, it was said.
Children aged between three and seven will resume face-to-face classes in Wales from Monday.
There will also be returns for some vocational learners, including apprentices, to colleges in order to access training or workplace environments for their practical qualifications.
Mark Drakeford today confirmed that all primary school pupils as well as those in Years 11 and 13 could return from March 15.
First Minister Arlene Foster said last month that schools in Northern Ireland will not reopen until at least March 8.
‘I have been worried through the pandemic – a number of people have – about the impact that being out of school has on, particularly, vulnerable children and the attainment gap is getting bigger.’
He said the Government would have to follow the data and the scientific advice on the issue, ‘but that’s what we should be working towards’.
‘If that means more testing, if that means Nightingale classrooms, if it means other measures, let’s do that because I want to get our kids back into school.’
However, his call faced some muted pushback from the Labour left.
John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor under former leader Jeremy Corbyn, told Sophy Ridge that there was little difference between the new leader and the unions.
But he added: ‘I can’t think of anyone better to listen to than those on the frontline and that is the teachers’ unions.
‘It’s interesting, I don’t think it has happened very often but all the teachers’ unions including those which represent the head teachers and school leaders as well as the frontline teaching staff themselves, are all saying the same thing.
‘So, I think listen to the unions and I don’t think that’s different from what Keir is saying. Keir is saying is when it’s safe and if we had to have a staggered reopening of the schools, let’s listen to those on the frontline.’
Mr Johnson is tomorrow expected to announce all pupils will return to school on March 8 and care home residents in England will each be allowed one regular visitor.
By Easter, at the start of April, two households will be allowed to meet up outside. That will be followed shortly afterwards by the reopening of non-essential shops and pubs and restaurants for outdoor service only.
The hospitality industry is expected to reopen fully in May.
Risk of getting infected with Covid-19 while socialising outdoors is ‘much, much lower’ than doing the same indoors, leading scientists say
The risk of becoming infected with Covid while socialising outdoors is ‘much, much lower’ than doing the same indoors, say leading scientists.
Even the slightest breeze will radically cut the chance of receiving an infectious dose from a nearby diner, as the air movement will prevent build-up of Sars-Cov-2 particles.
What’s more, the paucity of infections believed to have taken place outside adds to the fact the infection risk in open air is likely to be very low indeed, they say.
But transmission could still occur if people are sitting at the same outside table, they caution.
Explaining why infection risks are far lower outdoors than in, ventilation expert Dr Shaun Fitzgerald, director of the Centre for Climate Repair at Cambridge University, said: ‘The biggest factor is the much, much lower level of concentration of virus particles that you would be subjected to in an outdoor setting.
‘Fresh air effectively carries the virus away.’
This dilution makes ‘a huge difference as evidence shows people are able to fend off infection if they are exposed to a low dose’.
But Dr Fitzgerald stressed the importance of keeping a distance in face-to-face outdoor settings to avoid larger droplets.
It came as Health Secretary Matt Hancock again rejected calls for teachers to be given priority in the vaccine queue before schools return.
He told Sophy Ridge on Sunday: ‘We’ve asked the expert group, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, what order we should vaccinate in, broadly in order to reduce the number of deaths as fast as possible.
‘I think everybody can understand why we asked that as the question.
‘They set out the priority groups one to nine, which includes those who are clinically most vulnerable and their carers, and includes the over-50s, going down the age range.
‘They are currently considering, after that, what might be the best order in terms of clinical priority.
‘There isn’t strong evidence that teachers are more likely to catch Covid than any other group, but I’ll leave it for the JCVI to set out what they think is the best order in which to do this that minimises the number of deaths.’
On Friday nine trade unions ganged up on the PM to demand a ‘phased return’ only for millions of children who have been out of the classroom since the start of January.
In a letter orchestrated by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), education union leaders said they were ‘increasingly concerned’ that the Government could go ahead with a full return of all pupils in England on March 8.
The joint statement said: ‘This would seem a reckless course of action. It could trigger another spike in Covid infections, prolong the disruption of education and risk throwing away the hard-won progress made in suppressing the virus over the course of the latest lockdown.
The science around the role that schools play in the overall rate of transmission is uncertain. ‘
It adds: ‘What we do know is that the full reopening of schools will bring nearly 10 million pupils and staff into circulation in England – close to one fifth of the population. This is not a small easing of lockdown restrictions. It is a massive step.
‘These factors necessitate a cautious approach with wider school and college opening phased over a period of time.’
As well as the ASCL, the statement was signed by the GMB, National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), NASUWT, National Education Union (NEU), National Governance Association (NGA), Sixth Form Colleges’ Association (SFCA), Unison, and Unite.
Sage member Professor John Edmunds said the UK is in a ‘really strong position’ due to the vaccine rollout but warned that until everyone – including children – has been jabbed there will be ‘significant risk of a resurgence’ of the virus.
William Hague calls for lockdown to end in April
Former Tory leader William Hague has urged Mr Johnson not to keep coronavirus lockdown restrictions in place beyond April when all those over 50 have had the opportunity to be vaccinated.
He said there ‘wouldn’t be much justification for keeping most of the restrictions on people’ by then provided the number of cases is down to a ‘very low level’.
But he warned that there would need to be a ‘deal’ between the public and the Government to do mass testing at that point, and said people would need to be ready for ‘rapid, ruthless’ local lockdowns.
Lord Hague said he was hoping to hear in the road map, which Mr Johnson will announce on Monday, that the ‘great majority of restrictions on people can be lifted’.
He told Sky’s Ridge on Sunday: ‘Now, he is presumably going to say that will depend on the progress that’s being made and that’s fair enough.
‘But I think if we are going to reach the point, perhaps in April, where everybody over the age of 50 has had the opportunity to be vaccinated and the number of cases of Covid is down to a very low level – the sort of level we last saw in the middle of the summer last year – if both of those things have happened by some time in April, then there wouldn’t be much justification for keeping most of the restrictions on people, I think with one big caveat.
‘There has to be a deal, as it were, between the Government and the people of this country that we have to do the mass testing when we reach that point.
‘We have to be ready for really rapid, ruthless, local lockdowns: we have to all join in making a test and trace system work, which it can do once the infections are at a lower level, so everybody has to be psychologically ready for that and if they are, then I think at that point the government can really release most of the restrictions.’
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: ‘I think there’s an argument for turning to children (in the vaccine rollout) as fast as we can.
‘I mean, I have two children myself, they are in secondary schools and I think that there has been major disruption at schools and there will continue to be major disruption in schools until we have vaccinated our children.’
He said opening schools now would likely see the R number come close to 1, but that mixing outside is unlikely to have much effect.
Asked if he would be more comfortable opening primary schools and then secondary schools later, he said: ‘Obviously I’m just sticking to the epidemiology rather than other needs. Of course there’s great needs to get our kids back in schools as fast as we can. But sticking to the epidemiology, yeah, of course, it’s always safer to take smaller steps and evaluate.’
Mr Hancock today warned that the Government would take its time lifting the coronavirus lockdown, despite speeding up plans to rollout vaccines to all UK adults by the end of July.
The Health Secretary said it was ‘right to be cautious’ ahead of Boris Johnson’s big reveal of his roadmap out of restrictions tomorrow.
Mr Hancock confirmed this morning that every adult in the country will be offered at least one dose of a Covid vaccine by the end of July.
The Government previously said it hoped to reach all those aged 18 and over by the autumn, but Mr Johnson aims to greatly accelerate the successful campaign.
Mr Hancock also confirmed that everyone over 50 will be offered at least a first dose by April 15, rather than by May, as previously suggested.
But asked about the speed of the lockdown lifting, he told Sky’s Ridge on Sunday: ‘It is right to be cautious, it is incredibly important. There are still almost 20,000 people in the hospital with Covid right now. Almost 20,000.
‘The vaccination programme whilst clearly going very well, will take time to be able to reach all people who have significant vulnerability, especially because we also need to get the second jab to everybody.
‘So we have got time that needs to be taken to get this right, the PM will set out the roadmap tomorrow and he will set out the full details, taking into account that we need to take a cautious but irreversible approach, that’s the goal.’
However, former Tory chief whip Mark Harper, who leads the Covid Recovery Group, this morning repeated his call for all restrictions be lifted by the end of April, once the most vulnerable groups had been vaccinated under the new timetable.
Former Tory chief whip Mark Harper, who leads the Covid Recovery Group, this morning repeated his call for all restrictions be lifted by the end of April, once the most vulnerable groups had been vaccinated under the new timetable