This is when schools could reopen in England - and what you need to know about exams

Tuesday, 19th January 2021, 4:01 pm
Updated Tuesday, 19th January 2021, 4:01 pm

As part of England’s third national lockdown, all primary and secondary schools closed from 5 January.

The Prime Minister stated that all pupils, except from vulnerable children and children of key workers who are still allowed to attend school, would need to move to remote learning until at least mid-February.

But with no definitive end date for the current lockdown restrictions in place, parents, teachers and students are wondering when they will be able to return to the classroom.

Here’s the latest on when, and how, schools could reopen in England.

When will schools reopen?

Setting out England’s fresh lockdown measures at the beginning of January, Boris Johnson made it clear that he hoped schools would reopen after the February half term.

These dates can vary depending on your council area, but for most pupils the holiday is from Monday 15 – Friday 19 February.

However, ministers have said it is now possible that the lockdown may not begin to be eased until March.

Furthermore, restrictions could be lifted at differing rates in each region, depending on the prevalence of the virus.

For this reason, MPs have been told that schools might not reopen at the same time across the country.

Dr Jenny Harries, one of England's deputy chief medical officers, said on Tuesday 19 January that some schools could open earlier in some parts of the country than others.

She said: "On the broad epidemiology, it is highly likely that when we come out of this national lockdown, we will not have consistent patterns of infection in our communities across the country.

"But clearly schools will be right at the top of the priority for trying to ensure that balance of education and wellbeing is right at the forefront of consideration.

"I think it's likely we will have some sort of regional separation of interventions."

It comes as the head of the Oasis academy chain, Steve Chalke, warned that schools could be shut until the Easter holidays at the start of April.

He said: “I don't think schools will reopen until post Easter. I think they will miss the second half of term as well.”

And at the Downing Street coronavirus press briefing on 18 January, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the government had to “watch the data” before making a decision on schools reopening in March.

He said: “We've got to see the number of deaths coming down, and sadly we haven't seen that yet. We need to clearly see the pressure on the NHS reducing, and we are not seeing that yet.”

The government has insisted that opening schools again remains the “top priority”, with Professor Susan Hopkins, senior medical adviser at Public Health England, saying: “We've always said the schools should be the last to close and first to open.”

However, when asked for a definitive date for reopening, she said it was dependent on what happens over the next few weeks.

The Prime Minister had previously warned the public that restrictions would not be eased in one fell swoop, saying the process would be “gradual” and not “a great open sesame”.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi confirmed on Monday 18 January that lockdown restrictions could be lifted from early March, with a return to the tier system after that.

Why were schools closed?

Primary and secondary schools across England were forced to close after Boris Johnson’s third lockdown announcement on the evening on Monday 4 January - despite some pupils returning to school after Christmas that day.

During his national announcement, the Prime Minister said schools had to shut to prevent the spread of the disease and the new coronavirus strain which had emerged in the UK.

He said: “Because we now have to do everything we possibly can to stop the spread of the disease, primary schools, secondary schools and colleges across England must move to remote provision from tomorrow, except for vulnerable children and the children of key workers.

“Everyone will still be able to access early years settings such as nurseries.”

Mr Johnson stressed that schools were not closing because they were unsafe for children, but because they act as “vectors for transmission” between households.

Will there be exams this year?

As schools shut again, it was announced that traditional GCSE and A-Level exams in the summer would be replaced by teacher-assessed grades, similar to the approach that was taken during the first lockdown in March 2020.

However, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has indicated that some form of exams could still take place this year.

In a letter to the chief exam regulator on 13 January, Mr Williamson said he would "like to explore the possibility of providing externally set tasks or papers".

He said while the plan is for teachers' predicted grades to be used, exams might be necessary so teachers can “draw on this resource to support their assessments of students".