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When could schools start to return in different parts of the UK?

When could schools start to return in different parts of the UK?

There has been increasing focus recently on the return of school pupils to the classroom, with positive signs that lockdown measures are working in tackling the Coronavirus.

All four UK nations are currently under lockdowns and while each one differs slightly, they all involve people, including children, being required to stay at home except for a limited number of exceptions. Recently, Coronavirus case rates have been falling across the UK, though they have been coming down from particularly high levels, especially in England, and so it could be several weeks before case rates stabilise at much lower levels.

While schools remain open to vulnerable children and the children of key workers, most pupils are currently learning from home. Here's what we know so far about when schools may return in the different UK nations...

 

England

Schools in England are to remain closed to most pupils throughout the month of February and into March, it was confirmed by Boris Johnson this week. 

The Government had pledged to give schools two weeks notice ahead of them reopening and on 27 January, Mr Johnson said that it would not be possible for schools in England to reopen immediately after the half-term break. 

The Government is hoping to start the reopening of schools from 8 March 2021, though this will be dependent on Coronavirus rates. Exact details of how schools may reopen are unknown, but it has been widely suggested that schools may re-open in a phased approach, likely starting with the youngest pupils. Previously, a phased reopening has seen primary school children and secondary school pupils in key transition years have a prioritised return to the classroom.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged to set out a plan for the easing of lockdown measures on 22 February, at which point the Government hopes to have reached its target of vaccinating 15 million of the most vulnerable people by 15 February, and have a better understanding of the effect of the vaccines in reducing hospitalisation levels.

 

Wales

The youngest pupils in Wales could begin returning to classrooms after the February half term ends on 22 February, if rates of Coronavirus continue to fall.

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford made the announcement today (29 December), after announcing that alert level four lockdown restrictions will remain in place nationwide for the next three weeks.

Students studying vocational qualifications will also be among those prioritised for the phased return to colleges in Wales, it has been announced. Mr Drakeford said, “We will work with teachers, colleges, local authorities to plan for the safe return of children to school over the next couple of weeks and keep parents updated.”

 

Scotland

On 19 January, First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon said that schools in Scotland would not be reopening until at least mid-February.

Unlike in England, the Scottish Government had already announced before Christmas that most school pupils would learn remotely until 18 January, though given the current Coronavirus situation, that period has been extended.

An update on schools reopening and a clearer timetable is expected to be announced after a review on 2 February.

Scotland's Education Minister and Deputy First Minister John Swinney has indicated that the youngest pupils will be among the first to return to classrooms.

 

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, special schools currently remain open, though nursery, primary and post-primary schools are closed to most pupils. Pupils had been due to return following the February half-term break under previous plans, however, this has been delayed.

Most pupils will not return to school in person until at least Monday 8 March 2021, with this date dependent on the Coronavirus situation in the country.

Like in other countries, the return of pupils in Northern Ireland may also be staggered, with only some year groups returning at first.

 

There currently remains a significant amount of uncertainty as to when exactly schools will return across the UK, however, it appears that many students will enter the classroom for the first time in 2021 in the month of March, provided Coronavirus cases continue to fall.

The reopening of schools has been stated as a priority by governments and is expected to come before the reopening of other parts of society, such as non-essential retail and hospitality outlets.