Boris Johnson Says Schools Must Stay Shut Until At Least 8 March
Boris Johnson has confirmed schools will not open straight after the February half-term (PA)
The Prime Minister has told parents they must keep their children at home for at least another six weeks as "it will not be possible to reopen schools” after the February half-term.
Boris Johnson announced in the Commons pupils will not be able to return to classrooms until at least 8 March, as it is not safe to do so beforehand.
Delivering a statement about the government’s plans to start removing coronavirus restrictions he said: "The first sign of normality beginning to return should be pupils going back to their classrooms.
“I know how parents and teachers need as much certainty as possible including two weeks' notice of the return of face-to-face teaching.
"So I must inform the House that for the reasons I have outlined it will not be possible to reopen schools immediately after the February half-term.”
He added: “But I know how frustrating that will be for pupils and teachers who want nothing more than to get back to the classroom.
"And for parents and for carers who spent so many months juggling their day jobs, not only with home schooling but meeting the myriad other demands of their children from breakfast until bedtime.”
After allowing pupils back into schools for one day after the Christmas break they were then closed on 5 January, with the government suggesting they would re-open after the planned half-term in February.
But Mr Johnson said today: "If we achieve our target of vaccinating everyone in the four most vulnerable groups with their first dose by 15 February, and every passing day sees more progress towards that goal, then those groups have developed immunity from the virus about three-weeks later, that is by 8 March.
He said: “As we are extending the period of remote learning beyond the middle of February, I can confirm that the government will prolong arrangements for providing free school meals for those eligible children not in school – including food parcels and the national voucher scheme – until they have returned to the classroom.
“We can also commit now that, as we did this financial year, we will provide a programme of catch up over the next financial year.
“This will involve a further £300million of new money to schools for tutoring and we will work in collaboration with the education sector to develop, as appropriate, specific initiatives for summer schools and a Covid Premium to support catch up.”
The PM added: “But we recognise that these extended school closures have had a huge impact on children’s learning which will take more than a year to make up.
“So we will work with parents, teachers and schools to develop a long-term plan to make sure pupils have the chance to make up their learning over the course of this Parliament.”
"We hope it will therefore be safe to begin the reopening of schools from Monday, 8 March.”
Confirming the third lockdown would not be lifted before then, the PM added: "With other economic and social restrictions being removed thereafter as and when the data permits, then or thereafter I should say.”
In response the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer criticised Mr Johnson for earlier calling on him to say schools were safe.
“Even for this Prime Minister, it's quite something to open schools one day, close them the next, to call them vectors of transmission and then to challenge me to say that schools he's closed are safe,” he said.
"Only now to give a statement where he says that schools can't open until 8 March at the earliest because it's not safe to do so.
“That's his analysis, it's the sort of nonsense that's led us to the highest death toll in Europe and the worst recession.
"But of course we welcome any steps in reopening schools and we're going to look at the detail of how the education secretary plans to deliver this and the plans to deliver online learning.”
Mr Johnson replied: “He knows perfectly well that the problem is not that schools are unsafe, they are not unsafe, schools are safe, and he should say it and his union paymasters should hear him say it loud and clear.
“The problem is that that they bring our communities together, obviously large numbers of kids are a considerable vector of transmission, it’s not that there is any particular extra risk to those involved in education.”