Education secretary Gavin Williamson to give update on new year school return amid rising Covid cases

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson will deliver a statement to the House of Commons this afternoon about the return of schools in England.

The expected statement is due to be made around 3.30pm, the Department for Education said, and comes amid increasing pressure on the government to delay pupils' return to school in January.

Union bosses and teachers have raised concerns about safety in schools amid rising cases, with the new contagious strain of Covid-19 spreading across all parts of the country.

However, the government has been reluctant to close schools during the pandemic and had outlined plans to recruit the armed forces to roll out mass testing of pupils.

The Government said it would keep school reopenings ‘under review’ Credit: Jane Barlow/PA

The Ministry of Defence said 1,500 military personnel would be deployed to ensure testing systems were up and running by the time pupils returned to school in January.

Along with mass testing, a staggered return for different school years has been planned to secondary school pupils.

Labour's shadow education secretary, Kate Green, had called on Mr Williamson to make a statement to parliament.

Ms Green said: "Coronavirus rates are rising, and parents, staff and pupils are crying out for clarity about the start of term next week.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace during a visit to a Covid testing centre at Liverpool Exhibition Centre last month Credit: Peter Byrne/PA

"Silence from government is not an option. The education secretary must come to parliament tomorrow, set out a plan for schools and colleges, and provide desperately needed leadership. He must also urgently publish the SAGE advice on schools."

Teaching leaders have voiced criticism of the plans, too.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said: “Eminent scientists have said that schools should remain closed; that’s what unions I think have been responding to.”

A YouGov poll of 7,999 British adults has shown 43% of people “strongly support” keeping schools in England closed for two weeks after the Christmas break, the pollster said. Some 24% “somewhat support” closures, while just 9% “strongly oppose” and 10% “somewhat oppose” keeping school gates shut.