Gavin Williamson has said he hopes that schools can reopen before Easter and pledged to give teachers a “clear two weeks’” notice of any such decision.
The education secretary was asked this morning whether there was any realistic prospect of schools reopening before Easter.
“Schools were the last to close, schools will be the first to open,” Mr Williamson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme
“I would certainly hope that that would be before Easter.”
End of lockdown: Regional approach to school openings ‘likely’
His comments are a further suggestion that original hopes that schools could reopen to all pupils straight after the February half-term may now be fading.
Last week, prime minister Boris Johnson warned that reopening schools after the February break would depend on “a number of things”.
Asked today if he could guarantee he would give teachers and other school staff “proper notice” of such decisions, the education secretary said: “Absolutely, proper notice. We want to give all schools and teachers the opportunity to prepare and get ready to welcome all children back…making sure that they have a clear two weeks’ opportunity to be able to get ready to be welcoming those children back.”
Asked if he could guarantee that schools would not open and then immediately close again, as they had at the start of this term, Mr Williamson said: “Any decision to reopen schools to all children…is based on the best health advice and the best scientific advice.
“The reason that we were placed in a position to close schools to all but the children of critical workers and vulnerable children was down to the mounting pressure on the NHS.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Families and school leaders alike, who want to see disruption to pupils’ learning kept to an absolute minimum, will be very frustrated that restricted access to school looks set to continue beyond half-term.
“That said, a firm announcement will bring clarity so that schools and families can respond to the decisions of government.
“The secretary of state has done the right thing in not pursuing a hard date for a return to school and then waiting for the science to catch up.”
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “After the chaos and confusion that government incompetence over school opening and closure has created, it is good that we now have an assurance from Gavin Williamson that school staff will be given two weeks’ notice before reopening.
“The last thing that parents and children need, now, is a stop-start approach.”
Downing Street said the prime minister wanted schools to reopen as quickly as possible but refused to be drawn on whether it would be before Easter.
“If we can open them up before Easter, then we obviously will do but that is determined by the latest scientific evidence and data,” the prime minister’s official spokesman said.
On Tuesday, deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries revealed that a regional approach may be taken when deciding how schools in England reopen.