The prime minister was set to meet with ministers yesterday to discuss how long pupils should be taught from home following the Christmas holidays, amid rising Covid-19 cases across the country.
Britain announced another 39,237 cases of Covid-19 yesterday – the highest recorded since the pandemic began, amid concerns a second mutated strain of the virus had arrived from South Africa.
Secondary schools are already set to be taught from home for the first week of next term.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick assured parents schools would reopen in January, but talks between the Department for Education and Boris Johnson were postponed yesterday
But as rumours of a Brexit deal neared, a meeting between the PM and senior ministers was cancelled, according to Tes, formerly the Times Educational Supplement.
Despite millions more people being plunged into Tier 4 measures from Boxing Day, and talk of a third national lockdown in the New Year, Robert Jenrick yesterday assured parents that schools would be open next month.
The Communities Minister said classes would restart in person in ‘the first few weeks of January’, with teachers overseeing Covid tests for pupils to cut down on disruption.
As a second mutant strain was identified in Britain, Professor Neil Ferguson predicted a flattening of cases over the next two weeks, but warned the country faced a ‘critical’ question over what measures to implement in January
His comments came amid fears that the mutant coronavirus strain spreads more easily among children.
With cases surging in many parts of the country, Downing Street sources last night said that it was ‘too early’ to guarantee all pupils would be back in their classrooms by January 11.
Officials told the Mail that the reopening of schools was now ‘all down to the science’ surrounding the new strain’s behaviour and its infectiousness in young people.
Professor Neil Ferguson told the Commons Science and Technology Committee the new strain of coronavirus is ‘everywhere now’, but said he anticipated the impact of new Tier 4 restrictions and revised strict measures over Christmas elsewhere would have a beneficial impact.
But he raised the question of what might happen if schools reopen next month.
He said: ‘Schools are now shut, we are in a near-lockdown situation across the country. Contact rates are lower over Christmas.
‘I expect, though I hesitate to make any sort of predictions, we will see a flattening of the curve in the next two weeks. We will see at least a slowing of growth.
Department for Education Sources have conceded that the option of keeping schools closed throughout January has been looked at, but ‘nobody within the DfE wants that
‘The critical question is what happens in January and the extent we want to make public health measures more uniform across the country if the new variant is everywhere.’
Department for Education Sources have conceded that the option of keeping schools closed throughout January has been looked at, but ‘nobody within the DfE wants that.
Another source told TES: ‘A final decision has not been made yet. I think there are basically two camps. One which thinks we should wait to see what happens with case numbers over Christmas time because over the two weeks it could resolve itself, and then another camp which thinks that this will not resolve itself over two weeks, that the situation could get worse and that a decision needs be made to move schools online.’