Last reviewed 30 December 2020

In a statement to the House of Commons, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said that children’s education is an “absolute priority” for the Government and keeping schools open is “uppermost in all of our plans”.

While he would do everything possible to keep children in school, however, the latest evidence about the new Covid variant, and rising infection rates, requires immediate adjustments to plans for the new school term.

Primary schools

On 4 January 2021, he confirmed, most primary schools will open as planned but, in a few areas where infection rates are highest, only vulnerable children and children of key workers will attend school.

The rest will be taught remotely.

In the following areas, primary schools will remain closed, subject to regular review which will ensure they reopen as soon as possible:

  • London: Barking and Dagenham; Barnet; Bexley; Brent; Bromley; Croydon; Ealing; Enfield; Hammersmith and Fulham; Havering; Hillingdon; Hounslow; Kensington and Chelsea; Merton; Newham; Richmond-Upon-Thames; Southwark; Sutton; Tower Hamlets; Waltham Forest; Wandsworth and Westminster.

  • Buckinghamshire: Milton Keynes.

  • East Sussex: Hastings and Rother.

  • Essex: Brentwood; Epping Forest; Castle Point; Basildon; Rochford; Harlow; Chelmsford; Braintree; Maldon; Southend on Sea and Thurrock.

  • Hertfordshire: Watford, Broxbourne, Hertsmere and Three Rivers.

  • Kent: Dartford; Gravesham; Sevenoaks; Medway; Ashford; Maidstone; Tonbridge and Malling; Tunbridge Wells and Swale.

Details are included in “Guidance for education and childcare settings in designated areas on the implementation of the Contingency Framework” which is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-contingency-framework-for-education-and-childcare-settings together with updated information about the Contingency Framework itself.

Secondary schools and colleges

Because the Covid infection rate is particularly high among secondary school age pupils, every secondary school and college should be able to roll out testing, Mr Williamson said.

This would be to the benefit of everyone, he went on, not only the children and education staff. The first starter packs of up to 1000 test kits will arrive at all secondary schools and colleges on 4 January.

All pupils in exam years will return during the week beginning 11 January followed by all secondary and college pupils returning full-time on 18 January.

During the first week of term, secondary schools and colleges will prepare to test as many staff and students as possible and will only be open for face-to-face teaching to vulnerable children and children of key workers.

Remote education will be given to all other students. Military personnel will provide online support for testing and teams will be on standby to help in person if needed.

As with primary schools there will be certain secondary schools and colleges where only children of key workers, vulnerable children and those in exam years will return for face-to-face teaching.

The remainder will receive remote teaching.

“To support high quality remote education during this period, the Government expects to deliver over 50,000 laptops and tablets to schools across the country on Monday 4 January,” the Department for Education (DfE) said, “and over 100,000 in total during the first week of term. Over one million devices will be provided in total.”

Universities

Universities are being asked to reduce the number of students who return to campus at the start of January by prioritising medical and other courses where practical learning is required to gain professional qualifications.

All university students should be offered two rapid tests on return in order to reduce the chance of the spread of the disease, Mr Williamson emphasised.