The development of a new Covid variant in south-east England has contributed to rising numbers of coronavirus cases in recent months. In response to high rates of transmission and increased pressure on health services, the Government ordered another national lockdown for England earlier this year. For the second time since the start of the pandemic, schools were closed to most pupils and home-learning has returned in England.
Currently, only the children of key workers and vulnerable pupils are allowed to attend school.
When other pupils will be able to return to school is unclear, as the Government has not provided a date on which lockdown measures will start to be eased.
This week the Prime Minister said lockdown measures will be reviewed on February 15, and many are hopeful schools will be the first to reopen if measures start to ease.
The Government has made it clear reopening schools is a priority, and earlier this month Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said he hoped schools would return before Easter.
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However at a Downing Street press briefing on Tuesday, Boris Johnson did not confirm an exact date for schools to reopen.
The Prime Minister said a timetable on returning pupils to school will be dependent on the data.
Education experts have now said there is a lack of “clear roadmap” for getting pupils back into school this year, prompting concern schools could remain shut for several more months.
Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield said there is a “real danger” schools could remain closed until summer.
Some Conservative MPs have called for schools to be reopened after the February half-term in areas where Covid-19 infection rates are low.
This pressure on the Government comes as a Public Health England (PHE) study found Covid transmission in primary schools was “extremely low”.
Dr Shamez Ladhani, a PHE consultant paediatrician and study lead, said: “Evidence gathered from primaries during the autumn term suggests transmission in primary schools is extremely low and outbreaks are rare.
“There is also very little evidence students or staff are spreading the virus asymptomatically within primaries.”
He added: “Schools should be the first setting to reopen when it is safe to do so, and we are carefully monitoring the data.”
Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi told BBC Breakfast reopening schools will be “the first thing” the Government does when Covid cases are under control.
Mr Zahawi said: “The infection rates are much lower among primary school children than secondary – I think it is five times higher in secondary schools.
“I think once we see the national infection rates continue to drop – we still have 37,000 people in hospital with Covid, but once we get to a place where schools can be safely reopened, it will be the first thing we do.”