A large number of secondary school students in England will start the Spring term online in January, as part of a staggered return to the classroom announced by the government.
Students who are studying for exams will be expected to return in January in line with the existing term dates, however, most pupils are to resume their learning online at the start of term, before returning to the classroom on 11 January.
Primary school pupils, as well as vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers, will be expected to return in line with the existing term dates.
The staggering of students returning is to try and reduce the spread of COVID-19 after the Christmas period, and to allow a round of free Coronavirus testing to take place for students and staff.
Two rapid COVID-19 tests will be offered to students attending lessons three days apart. Where a student or member of staff tests positive for COVID-19, they will then be asked to take a lab-based PCR test to confirm the case.
Testing will be optional, but recommend, especially in areas of higher prevalence of the virus.
Announcing the measures, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:
“This targeted testing round will clamp down on the virus as students return from the Christmas break and help stop the spread of Covid-19 in the wider community.
“Building on the fantastic actions that schools and colleges have already taken to be as safe as possible, this additional testing will catch those who have the virus but are not showing symptoms to help schools and colleges stay in control of the virus throughout the spring term.”
Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer criticised the timing of the announcement, which comes just before the school Christmas holiday period. Sir Keir said a plan was needed for schools that started in September.
A number of questions remain over how the testing will be managed and it understood that teaching unions have submitted questions to Gavin Williamson regarding the announcement.