PM: 'Schools will not reopen after half term'
- Credit: PA
Boris Johnson has confirmed pupils will not return to schools as had been planned after February half term.
Instead the prime minister said if the vaccine roll out continued at its current pace schools could reopen on Monday March 8.
And, speaking in the House of Commons, he added that government would set out plans in the week beginning February 22 for the "gradual and phased" route out of lockdown.
Mr Johnson said: "The first sign of normality beginning to return should be pupils going back to their classrooms.
"I know how parents and teachers need as much certainty as possible including two weeks' notice of the return of face-to-face teaching.
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"So I must inform the House that for the reasons I have outlined it will not be possible to reopen schools immediately after the February half term.
"But I know how frustrating that will be for pupils and teachers who want nothing more than to get back to the classroom.
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"And for parents and for carers who spent so many months juggling their day jobs, not only with home schooling but meeting the myriad other demands of their children from breakfast until bedtime."
Taking part in the debate remotely, opposition leader Keir Starmer called for school teachers to receive the vaccination during the half term break.
The PM’s announcement came as no surprise to headteachers, who have been anticipating a further delay in reopening schools.
Richard Cranmer, CEO of St Benet’s Multi Academy Trust, which includes Archbishop Sancroft High School in Harleston, and primary schools in Diss, Newton Flotman and Garboldisham, said: “I am appreciative that the Government appears to be taking a measured and more informed approach about what is happening regarding wider school re-opening.
“The fact that we know now that this will not happen on February 22 means we can continue our focus on providing high-quality remote learning and not be distracted by uncertainty between now and then.
“I totally support the prime minister’s decision to use the latest scientific evidence available, therefore I understand why schools will not be re-opening at this point.
“Everyone of us working in schools is looking forward to the day we can get back to some sense of normality, but in the meantime we will carry on supporting our teachers, pupils and parents the best we possibly can.”
Penny Sheppard, headteacher at Queen's Hill Primary and Nursery School in Costessey, said: "The statement from the prime minister has meant we know as a school the earliest date the children may return.
“We have all our systems in place to ensure blended learning is able to continue for as long as necessary.
“I am pleased that it has been confirmed that we will have two weeks' notice to prepare the school to be fully opened which will give staff time to prepare for a smooth transition for our pupils back into the classroom.
“This is a challenging time for everybody but I have been really impressed with how hard our staff, pupils and their families have worked to adapt to the current situation."
Jim Adams, chief executive of Clarion Academy Trust, which oversees Hobart High School in Loddon and High Pakefield, near Lowestoft, said: “It's obviously disappointing that we are not in a position to move to full opening, and to welcome back all of our young people. Having said that, the safety of our pupils, staff and communities is paramount.
“We will continue to teach the children of critical workers and those deemed vulnerable, face to face. Also to provide high quality remote learning to our other children. We look forward to a full opening of schools, when it is safe to do so.
“It is refreshing to be given some idea of the government's plans, in advance. It will give us the opportunity to make sure that we are able to do everything we can to ensure a safe environment for all those in school.”
Former Suffolk head Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL head teachers' union, said: “Everybody agrees that getting all children back into class is vital as soon as possible, but this clearly cannot be rushed in such desperate circumstances, and we understand the government’s decision to extend the lockdown restrictions.
“What is crucial is that the government ensures that full reopening is done in a way which is safe and sustainable, and which inspires the confidence of education staff and the public.”
Mr Barton welcomed the prime minister’s promise of an additional £300m of catch-up funding, but called for clarity on the use of rapid turnaround coronavirus tests, a review of guidance on safety measures for schools to make sure they are fit-for-purpose, and a timetable for the vaccination of education staff.
He also stressed that schools were still open for vulnerable and key worker children, with many seeing many more pupils in classes than in the previous lockdown.
John Fisher, cabinet member for children’s services at Norfolk County Council, said: “None of us want to see prolonged school closures, as we know that most children learn better in classrooms with their teachers and that schools play an important role in supporting children’s safety and well-being.
“However, the newer variant of the virus spreads more easily and we must ensure any further reopening to be as safe as possible for children and staff.”
He said while the pandemic was affecting children’s learning and putting additional strain on families, the council had provided hundreds of devices to schools to support with online learning and were working with partners to provide hundreds more.
“We’re also running webinars for parents to provide advice and support and making financial support available to families who are struggling over the winter months,” he added.
“If anyone needs support or help, or has concerns about the safety of a child then please call us on 0344 800 8020.”