Education Secretary provides update as return dates for some school pupils delayed

The return dates for some pupils in England schools have been delayed, the Education Secretary has confirmed.

Addressing fellow MPs in the House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon, Gavin Williamson set out new plans for the spring term – claiming the move was necessary in light of rising COVID cases.

He confirmed that students in Years 11 and 13 taking exams will now return on January 11.

Other secondary school students will return full-time on January 18.

Most primary schools will open as planned on January 4.

However, Williamson did add that: “in a small number of areas where the infection rates are highest, we will implement our existing contingency framework, such that only vulnerable children and children of critical workers will attend face to face.”

This list of areas will be published later on the government’s website.

Williamson stated: “The education of children is an absolute priority,” but that the government “must always act swiftly when circumstances change.”

He added: “We have had to make a number of changes for the new term to help breaking chains of transmission.”

The original plan was for a staggered return to schools for pupils in England from January 4 – with primary school children, children of key workers, and secondary school children in years 11 and 13 (doing exams) set to return.

But Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove warned as recently as Monday that this plan was “under review” due to rising cases.

Teaching Unions had also called for a delay to reopening schools, warning that education facilities needed time to “consult as required on new risk assessments and ensure that they can be compliant with any new measures or requirements contained in any forthcoming national guidance.”

More than 1,500 members of the military will be drafted in to provide support with mass testing at secondary schools and colleges when pupils return.

Greater Manchester has now been placed under Tier 4 restrictions. According to the government regulations, residents in these areas must not leave or be outside of their home or garden except where they have a ‘reasonable excuse’ (e.g. essential shopping, exercise, legal obligations, and childcare).

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