SCHOOLS in England will be given two weeks’ notice before reopening, the education secretary has said.
Gavin Williamson told BBC Breakfast he was “not able to exactly say” when pupils will return to class.
Primary and secondary schools remain closed, except to vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers.
The government has said reopening of schools would be prioritised when the current coronavirus lockdown restrictions are eased.
Schools have been closed to most pupils so far this term, with primary schools closing after one day back, in response to rising Covid levels.
Pupils have been told they will be learning at home until at least half term in mid-February.
But Mr Williamson was pressed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether he could guarantee that schools would reopen at all this term, before the Easter holidays.
“I want to see them, as soon as the scientific and health advice is there, open at the earliest possible stage – and I certainly hope that would be before Easter,” said the education secretary, who’s responsible for schools in England.
He said schools and parents would have “absolutely proper notice” of when children are going to return, which he said would be a “clear two weeks” for teachers and families to get ready.
The biggest teachers’ union, the National Education Union, said schools and parents needed certainty and not a “stop-start approach”.
Last week Mr Williamson indicated to the Commons Education committee that schools in some parts of the country might stay closed at the end of the lockdown, with a return to the “contingency” arrangements in which schools in areas of high infection would be shut.
On Tuesday, England’s deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries also said schools may reopen region by region in a phased return after the February half term.
Labour has accused the education secretary of causing “chaos and confusion” and called on him to resign.
Party leader Sir Keir Starmer said providing two weeks’ advance notice of opening was “good news coming from an education secretary who normally gives them about 24 hours’ notice”.
Sir Keir said the government needed to “give children the ability to learn at home now” and “get on with the blindingly obvious” of getting testing in place in schools.
But asked about his own future, Mr Williamson said: “Our focus is making sure that we get the very best of remote education out to all children across the country, making sure that we return schools at the earliest possible moment.”
In terms of his own achievements, the education secretary said: “I’ll let other people do the grading.”
Schools have also been closed by other governments in the UK. In Scotland and Northern Ireland they will remain closed until at least the middle of February, while in Wales the next review of restrictions will be on 29 January.
The government has also paused plans to roll out rapid daily coronavirus testing in all but a small number of secondary schools and colleges, with health officials saying the new variant meant the risk of missing infections had risen.
But Mr Williamson emphasised that mass testing in schools would continue, clarifying and that it was the daily tests for those who had been in contact with a positive case which had been stopped.
The education secretary was also challenged on the fairness of setting tests as part of the replacement for cancelled GCSEs and A-levels, when pupils will have missed different amounts of time out of schools.
Mr Williamson said the tests were only “one element” for deciding replacement results, which will be based on teachers’ grades.