There is a level of uncertainty as to when school pupils will be returning to the classroom following the Christmas break, with concerns over the possible effects of the new Coronavirus variant.
Currently, primary school pupils and GCSE and A-Level students are set to return next week from 4 January, with all other pupils set to return the following week – though these plans are being kept under review.
The staggering of students returning was planned ahead of Christmas to try and reduce the spread of COVID-19 and to allow a round of free Coronavirus testing to take place for students and staff.
However, the new Coronavirus variant, which has been attributed to a significant rise in COVID-19 cases in parts of the South, South East and East of England, is believed to be up to 70% more transmissible than the previous variant of the virus – sparking concerns over the return of pupils to school classrooms.
Millions of people in England are now in Tier 4 ‘stay at home’ lockdowns, but reports have suggested that scientists have indicated lockdowns may be ineffective if schools (particularly secondary schools) remain open.
Speaking to Times Radio on Monday morning, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said the Government will be ‘talking to head teachers and teachers in the 24 and 48 hours, just to make sure that our plans, which of course are accompanied by community testing, are right and robust’.
Ahead of the Christmas break, many students were off school due to testing positive for COVID-19 or being a close-contact, and some schools closed altogether due to wide-spread COVID outbreaks.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is understood to be keen to keep schools open, though the new variant of the Coronavirus may make this even more difficult than before.
On Sunday, another 30,501 cases of COVID-19 were reported in the UK, while another 316 people were recorded to have died from the virus.