Longer school days, five-term years and shorter summer holidays under consideration as England's schools return

Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Shehab Khan

Longer school days, shorter summer holidays and five-term years are all under consideration by the government, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said, as schools in England prepare to reopen.

Pupils will return to school for the first time in two months on Monday, and have missed out on months of studying because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Williamson told Sky News' Sophy Ridge on Sunday that a change to the summer holidays and longer school days were being examined by the government to help pupils catch up on lost learning during the pandemic.

He said: “There is a whole range of different proposals that we are looking at, whether it is a five-term year, whether it is lengthening the school day."

Mr Williamson added: "We're looking at holidays."

“But also measures such as enhancing the support we give to teachers, supporting them in their professional development, making sure they can be the very best of themselves," he said.

Mr Williamson said Sir Kevan Collins, the government’s education recovery commissioner, would be looking at what measures to introduce over the next 18 months.

Gavin Williamson said schools reopening marked the first stage of opening up society as part of lockdown easing.

“This is our first step, our real first step in terms of moving out of national lockdown and it is our schools that are leading the way,” the Education Secretary told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

Mr Williamson continued: “We are very much factoring in as part of the road map that actually schools will be staying open.

“That is why we are taking a cautious approach because we intend for it to be an irreversible approach and that schools will continue to remain open.”

He gave a guarantee that schools would return again after the Easter holidays.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on a visit to a primary school. Credit: PA

The PM said "we are ready" for schools to go back and he believes the risk is "in not going back to school tomorrow."

"I'm massively grateful to parents who've put up with so much throughout the pandemic and teachers who have done an amazing job at keeping going," Boris Johnson said.

"But I do think we are ready and I think people want to go back, I think they feel it, they feel the need for it and you ask about the risk, I think the risk is actually in not going back to school tomorrow, given all the suffering and all the loss of learning we have seen."

The prime minister has also vowed to remain "cautious" in loosening coronavirus restrictions as he hailed the “truly national effort” to reduce coronavirus levels.

But, despite an improving picture in terms of declining Covid cases in England, the Conservative Party leader said he wanted to be careful not to “undo the progress we have made”.

It comes as the vaccine programme continues to accelerate, with people aged between 56 and 59 being invited to book Covid-19 jabs this week.

Hundreds of thousands of letters for the age group began landing on doorsteps on Saturday, and the latest round of invites comes after eight in 10 people aged 65-69 took up the offer of a jab, NHS England said.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng provided further optimism when he told The Times it was “possible” the government will have offered a first dose to all adults by June – a month ahead of the current end of July target.

Across the whole of the UK, more than a million people have received both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, while almost 21.8 million people have had one dose.

Heralding the return of schools, the PM said: “The reopening of schools marks a truly national effort to beat this virus.

Schools in England are due to return on Monday as part of easing the lockdown. Credit: PA

“It is because of the determination of every person in this country that we can start moving closer to a sense of normality – and it is right that getting our young people back into the classroom is the first step.”

Mr Johnson urged the public to stick to the rules as the government contemplates keeping to its plan for removing measures.

According to the PM's road map, the second part of stage one, which will allow outdoor gatherings of either six people or two households, is due on March 29.

Shops could open by April 12 and all restrictions could possibly be lifted by June 21.

“We are being cautious in our approach so that we do not undo the progress we have made so far and I urge you all not to give up on your efforts to keep your families and others safe,” Mr Johnson added.

“Get the vaccine, get tested, and remember that we are all in this together.”

The renewed push for people to continue to obey the rules comes after Health Secretary Matt Hancock shared data on Friday showing the average daily number of Covid cases, hospital admissions and deaths are the lowest they have been since autumn.

Daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK Credit: PA Graphics

Mr Hancock said the falling cases meant the government could continue with its plan of replacing the lockdown with the “protection that comes from vaccines and regular testing”.

As part of reopening schools, ministers are asking pupils to take two quick-result tests per week in order to weed out asymptomatic carriers of Covid-19.

Downing Street said nearly 57 million lateral flow test kits, which can produce results in less than 30 minutes, have already been delivered to schools and colleges as part of the rollout.

After three initial tests on site, students will be provided with two rapid tests to use each week at home.

Professor Sheila Bird, a member of the Royal Statistical Society, has warned it will be “very likely” that the lateral flow tests will produce false positives and that all positive results should be double-checked with a more accurate PRC test.

Secondary school and college students are also being asked to wear face coverings in classrooms where social distancing cannot be maintained, with the advice set to be reviewed after Easter.