Berkshire primary schools will be returning from Monday, January 4, but secondary schools will be delayed until week commencing January 18 in a bid to prepare for mass coronavirus testing of pupils.
At a briefing held in Downing Street earlier today, Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressed regrets that more of England will be placed under the Tier 4 restrictions that Berkshire has been under since Sunday, December 20. The changes come in tomorrow (Thursday, December 31).
And he confirmed changes to the resumption of in-person lessons for the winter term.
“It remains the case that keeping children in education is a national priority; it remains the case that schools are safe,” Mr Johnson said.
“We must face the reality that the sheer pace of the spread of this new variant (of covid-19) requires us now to take even tougher action in some areas and that does affect schools.”
While most primary schools will reopen, it is currently planned to delay the start of the new term for parts of London, Kent and Essex, among others, until at least January 18, when a review will be made.
The reason, he said, was because the rate of transmission in those areas was so high and it would put too much pressure on the NHS.
In secondary schools, pupils in exam years – 11 and 13 – will be asked to switch to remote learning from Monday, returning to in person lessons from Monday, January 11. Other pupils would return a week later.
Vocational exams scheduled for the first weeks of January will go ahead as planned.
“I want to stress that depending on the spread of the disease it may be necessary to take further action in their cases as well, in as I say the worst affected areas,” Mr Johnson said.
And he reaffirmed a pledge to expand testing, with secondary school pupils being tested “as they return and regularly thereafter”.
Universities would also be asked to minimise student numbers, giving priority to medical courses and those who require face-to-face teaching. The wider return of students currently planned from week beginning January 25 will be kept under review.
“All of these measures are in the end designed to save lives and to protect the NHS,” Mr Johnson said.
The Department of Education said this evening that the new strain of Covid-19 is the cause of the majority of the cases identified in London, the South East and the East of England and that infection rates have increased faster than expected in these areas.
Schools are expected to receive a ‘starter pack’ containing 1,000 rapid tests from January 4, and 1,500 military personnel have been deployed to offer assistance with testing.
While pupils will be tested regularly, there will be daily testing for students who have been in close contact with a confirmed case. This, the government hopes, will reduce the need for self-isolation.
Areas where primary schools will be closed until at least January 18
Barking and Dagenham, Barnet, Bexley, Brent, Bromley, Croydon, Ealing, Enfield, Hammersmith and Fulham, Havering, Hillingdon, Hounslow, Kensington and Chelsea, Merton, Newham, Redbridge, Richmond-Upon-Thames Southwark, Sutton, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest, Wandsworth, Westminster
Brentwood, Epping Forest, Castle Point, Basildon, Rochford, Harlow, Chelmsford, Braintree, Maldon, Southend on Sea, Thurrock
Dartford, Gravesham, Sevenoaks, Medway, Ashford, Maidstone, Tonbridge and Malling, Tunbridge Wells, Swale
Watford, Broxbourne, Hertsmere, Three Rivers