Will February half term be brought forward? Latest on school closures

Mum of two says possible school closures ‘heartbreaking’

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Covid cases have surged across the UK in recent weeks, largely driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant. This has prompted concerns that schools could see Covid-related staff absences similar to those in the NHS. If this happens understaffed schools may be forced to close. Could the February half-term break be brought forward in a bid to stop school closures?

As schools start to reopen this week, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has urged education leaders to do “everything in your power” to protect face-to-face teaching.

When schools return, students and staff will have to adhere to new rules to prevent the spread of the virus. 

But these steps may not be enough to stop a wave of school closures. The Government may have to consider bringing the February half term forward.

This could be beneficial in the long run, as schools could be closed while the number of Omicron cases peaks. 

If schools returned as normal once cases start to fall, staff would be at less risk of catching the virus and so fewer staff absences would occur. 

But there has been no indication from Downing Street that such a plan is even under consideration. 

The Prime Minister has said he hopes England can “ride out” the current wave of Covid without further restrictions. 

The PM hasn’t ruled out taking drastic measures such as the pushing forward of February half term, however, the current signals from Number 10 make it highly unlikely that such steps would be taken. 

Mr Zahawi has acknowledged that some remote learning may have to take place because of expected staff shortages. 

But the Department for Education states that if students are forced to isolate, then schools should have the necessary provisions in place to offer effective remote learning.

What is there Government doing to stop school closures? 

In December, Mr Zahawi made a plea for retired teachers to return to work to fill potential staffing gaps in the New Year. 

But agencies that manage supply teachers have said they are unlikely to be able to plug this staffing gap time for the start of January. 

The Government hopes that their new Covid-measures in schools will keep staff absences to a minimum to enable face-to-face teaching to continue.

Before schools broke up for Christmas, new guidance was issued making masks compulsory in communal areas such as corridors and on school transport.

Masks are now mandatory in classrooms in secondary schools. 

Pupils in secondary schools will be tested at least once before they return to school this week. 

Ministers have assured schools they will be provided with enough rapid tests despite the UK-wide shortage. 

The Government wants pupils to carry out Covid tests at least twice a week.

A drive to get more school children vaccinated will also start in the New Year. 

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