Thousands of parents in England have been left unsure over whether or not they can take their children to school today.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has claimed for months that schools are safe, a claim he has repeated in recent days.
But unions have voiced concerns that, as the coronavirus pandemic rapidly worsens, schools are unsafe for teachers and students.
All of London’s primary schools and some of those in surrounding areas have been closed until 18 January but students elsewhere have been told to return today.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said it was “very hard to tell” how many schools would be open for the start of the term.
“Some schools in Tier 4 areas will be open for vulnerable pupils and key worker families and will be providing remote learning for others, yet in other areas also in Tier 4, all pupils will be admitted,” he said.
“That’s a confusing picture for school leaders and families alike.”
Some councils have called on the government to allow schools outside London to remain closed.
Stewart Young, leader of Cumbria County Council, said the government had responded to his council’s request by saying that schools there should open as planned.
He said: “This is disappointing news and I feel that this is the wrong decision for Cumbria and for our families and communities.”
Leader of Kent County Council Roger Gough asked Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to keep all primary schools in the county closed, saying it is “very hard to justify” having some open while others were closed.
Primary school pupils in Thanet, Canterbury, Dover and Folkestone and Hythe are expected to return on Monday while students in the county’s other districts will learn remotely for two weeks.
Essex County Council said it was seeking “urgent clarity” from the government on whether schools should open in north Essex.
It said primary schools in Colchester, Tendring and Uttlesford – the only districts in Essex where schools were due to reopen – would move to remote learning from Tuesday.
Brighton and Hove City Council has said primary school students should not return until 18 January, except for vulnerable children and those whose parents are key workers.
Council leaders in Wolverhampton, Norfolk, Slough, Manchester, County Durham, Lancashire, Birmingham and Gateshead have said they will support any head teachers who decide it is unsafe for schools to open.
One parent of a child at school in Wokingham Borough told Sky News he was emailed on Sunday evening with the news that the school would be closed and students would be expected to learn online.
He said: “The school does not (nor has it ever) provided any form of online learning. In this case, the ‘online learning’ is a very limited and not very useful set of perhaps three to four sheets worth of material and a link to a couple of videos used by the school – parents are expected to actually take children through the content, teachers make close to zero contact.”
Secondary schools in England will have a staggered return, with those taking exams this year expected to return on 11 January and other years to return a week later.
It comes amid growing calls for a national lockdown, as another 54,990 people tested positive for COVID-19 in the UK – the sixth day in a row that new daily cases have exceeded 50,000.
A further 454 people have died with coronavirus, bringing the total to 75,024.
In Wales, schools are set for a staggered return, with face-to-face learning expected to resume for most by 11 January and a full return before 18 January.
In Northern Ireland, primary pupils are to be taught remotely for the week from 4-8 January, while secondary school Years 8 to 11 will learn remotely throughout January.
In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon said the “planning assumption” remains to open schools on 18 January, but parents will be informed of any changes.
— to news.sky.com