Schools could remain closed in January to bring down Covid infection rates - what we know so far

Pupils could be told to stay home for school for longer than originally planned, as government scientists urge a stricter national lockdown than that seen in November.

The government’s Scientific Advisory group for Emergencies (SAGE) advised last week that due to the prevalence of the new strain of Covid and the rising R rate, a more restrictive lockdown will be required to prevent cases rising rapidly out of control.

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This would mean closing schools in January, with secondary schools likely to have a bigger impact than primary schools.

The advice from government scientists comes as some pupils were due to return to school in a staggered manner, with primary as well as year 11 and 13 students due back first.

What has the government said?

Cabinet minister Michael Gove has said that the plans to open schools in a staggered manner will continue as scheduled, though discussions between Downing Street and the Department for Education are ongoing today.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4, Mr Gove said, “It is our intention to make sure we can get children back to school as early as possible. We are talking to teachers and headteachers in order to make sure we can deliver effectively. But we all know that there are trade-offs.

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“As a country we have decided - and I think this is the right thing to do - that we prioritise children returning to school. But we have a new strain and it is also the case that we have also had, albeit in a very limited way, Christmas mixing, so we do have to remain vigilant.”

However, the cabinet minister also told Sky News that the government will “always keep things under review,” so changes could yet be made to the plans for schools.

Should schools close?

Government scientists are said to be pushing for schools to remain closed over fears that the new strain of Covid could spread rapidly and increase case numbers to an unmanageable level.

The new strain is thought to be more infectious, and some experts have suggested that it might more easily infect children.

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The government has been advised to implement another national lockdown, but scientists have voiced concern that a lockdown like the one put in place in November would not do enough to keep the R rate under control.

Speaking to Politico’s Playbook, Robert Halfon MP said, “Whilst the genius of science and medicine now has a vaccination for Covid, there isn’t a vaccination for potentially damaging children’s life chances, well being, mental health and safeguarding and continued loss of learning through not being at school.”