Government to announce decision on delayed school return today

The Government's education secretary Gavin Williamson will deliver a statement to the House of Commons this afternoon about the return of schools in England.

It comes amid growing pressure from government health advisers who have suggested schools may have to stay closed following the Christmas break to help suppress the new, more contagious coronavirus strain.

The expected statement is due to be made at around 3.30pm, the Department for Education said.

Teaching unions are also calling for a delay to the reopening of schools in January, to allow mass testing to be set up to help protect schoolchildren and staff as the new variant continues to spread.

The Government said school reopenings are being kept "under review" amid mounting pressure from teaching unions and health advisers to delays pupils' return to class in January Credit: Jane Barlow/PA

The Government had already proposed a staggered return for secondary schools, with pupils beginning the term online via remote learning for the first week, before returning to classes a week later on January 11.

But students in exam year groups, vulnerable children and key worker's children would be able to attend school from the start of term.

Primary school pupils in Lancashire were also due to return to class as normal on Monday, January 4.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC the new variant meant it was much harder to protect education.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme, Mr Hancock 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," he added, "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."

The Government has been reluctant to close schools during the pandemic and has outlined plans to recruit the armed forces to roll out mass testing of pupils.

The Ministry of Defence said 1,500 military personnel would be deployed to ensure testing systems were up and running by the time pupils returned to school in January.

A YouGov poll of 7,999 British adults has shown 43% of people “strongly support” keeping schools in England closed for two weeks after the Christmas break, the pollster said.

Some 24% said they “somewhat support” closures, whilst just 9% “strongly oppose” and 10% “somewhat oppose” keeping school gates shut.

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