Schools across England will not close nationally even if the Covid ‘R’ rate rises above one, the government has confirmed.
Millions of children returned to classrooms on Monday (18 March) as part of the first step in easing lockdown restrictions, with secondary school and college pupils staggering their return this week to allow for mass testing.
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Ministers have said they want the reopening of schools to be “irreversible” and suggested that the R rate rising should not force them to close again.
The R is the average number of new people infected by each person with Covid-19 in the UK.
When the R is below one it means infections are falling, while an R above one indicates that infections are rising. At the moment, the R rate in the UK is currently around 0.7 to 0.9.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the government has taken a cautious approach to getting pupils back into classrooms to ensure that they can continue to stay open.
Asked if schools would stay open if the R rises above one, Mr Williamson told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “The answer is absolutely yes.
“We are very much factoring in as part of the road map that actually schools will be staying open.
“That is why we are taking a cautious approach because we intend for it to be an irreversible approach and that schools will continue to remain open.”
He also gave a guarantee that schools would return again after the Easter holidays.
Testing in schools
Monday (8 March) marked the full reopening of schools to all pupils, with outdoor after-school sports and activities also allowed to restart.
Secondary schools will stagger the return of pupils over the week to allow for mass Covid testing, with the government advising that these pupils wear face coverings where social distancing is not possible.
Pupils will receive three Covid-19 lateral flow tests before using at-home kits twice a week. Downing Street has said nearly 57 million testing kits have been delivered to schools and colleges, and some have already begun testing.
Primary school children are not required to carry out Covid-19 tests or wear face masks on their return.
Students at university who are taking practical courses which require specialist equipment and facilities can now attend face-to-face teaching, while all other students should continue to learn remotely.
Children’s Minister Vicky Ford said that the additional measures, including mass testing and wearing of face masks, have been put in place for secondary schools to ensure pupil’s safety and to avoid having to close once again.
Asked if schools would be forced to close if pupils don’t wear masks, she said: “We absolutely want to make this irreversible. We want to do it cautious.
“It’s a really key step in removing the lockdown and that’s so important for the whole of society, so we really have put in these extra measures to keep Covid out of the classroom, that’s on top of all the measures that were in schools already.
“We’re encouraging people, please do sign your child up for the tests. Encourage them to wear the mask, that will help to keep them all safer and we don’t want to go back to a situation where all schools are closed.”