The Education Secretary insists the scientific evidence shows it is safe for students to return to school in March 8. 

Gavin Williamson provided an update on plans to reopen all schools in 12 days time during a press conference at Downing Street this evening. 

He confirmed secondary schools will undergo a phased or staggered return from March 8 to allow for mass testing to be rolled out among student. 

Dr Jenny Harries, who joined Mr Williamson at the briefing, warned it was likely some pupils will be asked to stay off school if there are concerns they have Covid or had contact with anyone who has tested positive. 

But she said regular testing of secondary pupils would ensure school environments will be "more or less free from infections".


Other topics such as face coverings in classrooms, a possible extension to schools days and a shortened summer holiday were all addressed during the briefing. 

So here are the answers to some of the key questions: 

Will the school day be extended to help students catch up?

Mr Williamson said: "It's not part of a plan, but we are wanting to see a real step change in what we can deliver in terms of our schools.

"That's why we're taking an in-depth look at how do we drive results, how do we drive attainment, how do we drive the chances of youngsters from disadvantaged background."

Sir Kevan Collins has been appointed as the Government’s 'education recovery commissioner' and will be in charge of seeing if any reforms can be made in the education system.

Will the summer holidays be shortened to let children catch-up?

The Government has announced a £200m package for secondary schools which it hopes will allow them to operate throughout August. 

On this, Mr Williamson said: “What we have done in terms of a £200 million programme is we want schools to be putting on great activities, whether it is education-led or even wellbeing-led, so we’d be hoping that schools can be offering that, draw down that funding in order to be offering that to children.

“Yes, we’d hope that schools are offering time in schools for children and that’s why we’ve put the funding there."

Will children have to wear face masks in school?

Pupils in secondary schools and higher education will be asked to wear face coverings. 

Students in primary schools are not required to wear a covering. 

The rules around face coverings will be reviewed in the Easter break. 

Dr Harries said: “Face coverings are there to help others – we are protecting others by wearing them.

“There are a number of different conditions at the moment. For example, we have a new variant, and while we are understanding that more, then obviously taking additional precautions makes sense.

“We understand more about the ability for aerosol generation and transmission, so that is also important.

“So things, I think, have moved on and it should be reassuring to know that we look at the evidence and then adjust our advice accordingly.”

How will GCSE and A-level students be graded this year?

Details on this are due to be announced tomorrow. 

But Mr Williamson said there would be “no algorithms whatsoever” used in determining exam grades in the summer.

He said: “We are putting trust in teachers.

“That’s where the trust is going – there is going to be no algorithms whatsoever but there will be a very clear and robust appeals mechanism.

“But I’m afraid you’re going to have to forgive me – it is right that this is announced in the House of Commons. That will be happening tomorrow, so just a few more hours to wait.”

Can school pupils see grandparents who have had the Covid vaccine?

Dr Harries said children should continue to socially distance from grandparents until the Government is “absolutely sure” about the impact of the vaccine rollout.

She said: “The testing programme in schools is clearly going to mean that people – parents, grandparents and teachers and other school children – can be very assured schools will be as safe as they can be because we are trying to remove infection from that environment. 

“And of course, that will have a really positive impact on breaking chains of transmission in communities and in those families.

“But the slight caveat to that is, having got so far down the line with this and now on the road map, very, very carefully coming out, I would encourage children not to go off yet, even if their grandparents have had their vaccinations.

“Not to go hugging them too much until we’re absolutely sure what the impact of that vaccine rollout has been.

“I’m sure it’s going to be positive but we just need to take a steady course through the road map.”

Will children be able to mix with people after lockdown, even though they won't get priority access to the vaccine?

Mr Williamson was asked if he could guarantee the Government would not allow a situation this summer where young people and those who are not vaccinated would be prevented from going to the cinema, for a meal or on holiday.

He replied: “I think, as a dad myself with two daughters, I think the novelty of going for walks with me is starting to run a bit thin now, and they want a slightly more enhanced entertainment.

“So I think, as a dad’s point of view, I’m very desperate to make sure that they’re able to enjoy the benefits of opening up, society opening up, different parts of the economy, and being able to get out there.

“So I’m absolutely sure we’re not going to be disadvantaging our young people to be able to enjoy the benefits of stepping out into the world so much more than they’ve been able to.”