Covid: current advice on reopening primary schools in England

For now, the answer is that most primaries and attached nurseries will open again on 4 January, but they will remain closed within 50 local authorities spread across London and the south of England, including Kent and Essex.

A number of councils that are not among the 50, however, have already made it clear they do not want their primary schools to reopen.

The schools to be closed are required to remain open for remote learning for pupils, and the children of key workers and those classed as vulnerable will be able to attend school in person.

The government has yet to divulge the basis on which it selected the 50 areas where primaries have been told to shut. It said the “contingency framework” plans were being implemented in local areas “with high rates of infection and with significant increases in seven-day case rates, and pressure on the NHS”.

All 50 are in tier 4 areas but others in tier 4 have not been included. This has led to confusion in areas with higher rates of infection but where primaries have been told to remain open.

Haringey council, which has higher rates of infection than some areas on the list, is defying government advice and said it was advising its primaries to close to all but vulnerable children and those of key workers.

The leader of Greenwich council, which was also not included in the government’s “contingency framework”, said: “There appears to be no logic to how this list was brought together.”

A group of London councils, including Haringey and Greenwich, have jointly petitioned the government, asking for their primary schools to be able to close from 4 January.

The Department for Education has said it will review the decision on school closures in the 50 named local authorities by 18 January.

That decision could go a number of ways, including adding more councils to the list of areas where primaries should close, and adding secondary schools to the closures. Or there could be an even wider-scale closure across England.

The latter is a serious possibility on the basis of scientific advice, such as research by Imperial College into the new Covid-19 variant B117, which they found to be directly affecting a greater proportion of those aged under 20.

Before then, however, the government may face a rebellion by local authorities, school leaders and teaching unions, who want to see how the government made its calculations as well as arguing that more schools need to be closed.