Secondary schools in England told to stagger pupils’ return in January

Published: 17 December 2020

Post Desk : The reopening of secondary schools and colleges in England after Christmas will not be delayed – but will be staggered, the government has said.

Those studying for exams are expected to return as normal in January, but many pupils could start the year online, to allow mass testing to be rolled out at the start of term.

Primary school pupils will go back to school as normal in January, alongside vulnerable pupils and key workers’ children.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “The start of the term won’t be delayed but what we are doing is asking secondary schools and colleges to operate a staggered return supported by full-time remote education during the first week of term with in-person teaching in full starting on 11 January.

“Students in exam year groups, vulnerable children, children of key workers, will attend school or college in person from the start of term as well as students in primary, special and alternative provision schools and colleges.”

Talking about the plans, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told reporters: “I think schools are going to be really frustrated this has come at the last moment.

“What we needed for schools was a plan that started last September and what we have had is one problem after another all through to the Christmas period.”

Teaching unions also reacted to the news, and Dr Mary Bousted of the National Education Union (NEU) said the announcement “demonstrates ministerial panic rather than rational and responsible action in response to the exponential rise in Covid-19 infection rates amongst secondary school pupils”.

She added: “We are writing to Gavin Williamson today with a series of urgent questions about today’s announcement.”

It comes after Susan Acland-Hood, permanent secretary at the Department for Education (DfE), earlier told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that the DfE did not have “any plans to lengthen the Christmas holiday”.

Chairwoman of the PAC, Meg Hillier, said it was “ludicrous” that in the final days of term, many parents and headteachers did not know what would be happening when schools return in a few weeks.