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Schools to reopen in January with teachers doing Covid tests on pupils

A senior minister has insisted children will return to school in January with teachers administering coronavirus tests.

It comes after fears schools may remain closed until February.

But communities minister Robert Jenrick confirmed classes would restart in person in ‘the first few weeks of January’.

Asked if schools would reopen in January, he told the BBC: ‘Yes they will do. We have made it our longstanding priority to reopen schools, I think that is the right thing to do.

‘I appreciate it is going to be a big challenge and teachers and head teachers are tired at the end of a very difficult year, so this will be some further work for them to do over the Christmas period. 

‘But if we can get this right and prepare for it it will enable kids to go back to school, albeit in a staggered way, in the first few weeks of January.’

He added plans would be released in a few days for teachers to be able to make changes, including carrying out tests on their pupils.

This would allow children with symptoms to be tested and sent home, while those who test negative remain in class. 

It comes after inconsistent messaging from the Government around the return of schools over the past few days.

Downing Street sources told MailOnline yesterday it was ‘too early’ to guarantee all pupils would be back in their classrooms by January 11.

They added the reopening of schools was now ‘all down to the science’ surrounding the new strain’s behaviour and how it affects young people.

They further admitted plans to test all pupils before they return ‘may not be enough’ to guarantee a January reopening.

And schools minister Nick Gibb said last week that although preparations for testing in schools are underway, teachers would not be involved with the testing process and volunteers would be recruited to do this.

‘Our national priority is to keep schools open. We wanted schools to stay open right to the end of term,’ he told Times Radio.

‘What’s happening in January is still primary schools will go back on January 4. So will all students who are vulnerable, or children of critical workers, and, indeed, children who are in their exam years, year 11, and year 13.

‘But that first week, that first five days, other secondary-school pupils will be learning from home from remote education so that schools can prepare for all secondary-school pupils to be tested in those first few weeks of term.

‘So, it’s a national system, a national strategy.’

But he strongly denied on Sky News that teachers would be involved in administering the tests.

‘Teachers are already fully occupied in keeping schools secure,’ he said.

It comes after scientists expressed fears the new mutant variant of Covid-19 is more infectious in children.

Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, told a New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NervTag) briefing there is strong evidence the new variant is between 50% and 70% more transmissible than the original strains of the virus.

He also told journalists that the newly discovered variant had a statistically higher rate of infection among children.

This is a breaking story. More to follow.

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