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Gavin Williamson admits schools could stay shut BEYOND February half-term

Gavin Williamson today admitted some schools in England could remain closed beyond the middle of February. 

The Government is hoping a majority of pupils will be able to return to classrooms soon after the first review of the national lockdown on February 15. 

MPs on the Education Select Committee this morning demanded a guarantee ‘signed in blood’ from Mr Williamson that schools will reopen as soon as possible. 

Mr Williamson stressed he wants ‘schools to be closed for the shortest period of time available’ but warned classrooms could continue to be shut in ‘areas of particular need’ – even after lockdown starts to be eased. 

Meanwhile, the Education Secretary also declined to guarantee that nurseries will continue to be allowed to open as he would only go so far as to say he had ‘no intention’ to close them. 

Gavin Williamson today suggested that schools in hotspot areas could remain closed beyond the February half-term

Gavin Williamson today suggested that schools in hotspot areas could remain closed beyond the February half-term

The Government used a so-called contingency framework before lockdown which allowed ministers to move primary schools in coronavirus hotspots to remote learning. 

Mr Williamson said the framework will be used again when lockdown is eased in an apparent admission that some schools could remain shut potentially long into the future.  

He told MPs: ‘We already have the sort of set scheme in terms of contingency framework. 

‘Obviously as I have said many times before I want schools to be closed for the shortest period of time available. 

‘But the contingency framework would be sort of sat there to sort of continue if there [are] areas of particular need where we had to have school settings continued to remain closed, it would be through the contingency framework that they would remain closed.’ 

Robert Halfon, the Tory chairman of the committee, said he wanted a commitment to reopen schools as soon as possible, and ideally after the February half-term, ‘signed in blood’ by Mr Williamson. 

Mr Halfon also pushed the Education Secretary on whether nurseries in England will be allowed to stay open.   

Mr Williamson said: ‘Nurseries, we always, Mr Chairman, I am very much like you, I always want to see all education settings open all of the time.

‘I always want to ensure that every child is in a position to be able to go to school and as you will be aware, transmissibility among those who are most youngest is actually the very lowest compared to all of the settings. 

‘So when you are in a position to be able to keep part of the education sector in terms of early years, I believe it was the right decision to make because so many families really rely on that nursery provision.

‘But most importantly, those early years are so important…’

Mr Halfon then interrupted and pushed Mr Williamson for a guarantee that nurseries will be allowed to stay open. 

Mr Williamson replied: ‘The advice that we have had is that we can keep early years settings open and there is no intention to close them and we have not received any contrary advice to that.’  

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