Schools in England will not reopen immediately after the February half-term break, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told MPs.
Speaking in a statement to MPs on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Johnson said that schools may be able to begin reopening from Monday 8 March.
Schools have been closed to most pupils since the start of the Christmas holidays, though some primary schools opened for one day in early January before new lockdown measures were announced. The news means that most school pupils will have lost a further 2 months of face-to-face teaching, on top of around 4 months lost during the first nationwide lockdown from last March.
Mr Johnson told MPs that he understood the announcement that schools will not return until at least March will be “frustrating” for parents, carers, children, teachers and others. He said that the return from 8 March is dependent on the government reaching its target of vaccinating the four most vulnerable groups by mid-February and continued progress in tackling the virus.
The Government had previously pledged to give at least two weeks notice ahead of schools reopening. At this stage, it is unclear whether schools will, in fact, be able to open on 8 March, and whether this may be a staggered process. The Prime Minister has pledged to set out a plan for the easing of lockdown measures on 22 February.
Arrangements for providing free school meals will be prolonged until children can return to schools, Mr Johnson said, while he also announced that initiatives including summer schools to help pupils catch-up will be developed.
In response to Mr Johnson’s statement in the Commons, Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer welcomed “any steps forward in opening schools”, though criticised the Prime Minister for his changing rhetoric on schools. Just over an hour before his statement, Mr Johnson had encouraged Sir Keir at PMQs to say that ‘schools are safe’, despite having now announced that they will have to stay closed.
Sir Keir Starmer also reiterated his calls for all school staff to be vaccinated during the February half-term break.
Mr Johnson is expected to address the nation this evening in a press conference from Downing Street around 5pm.