Published: 17:26, 30 December 2020
| Updated: 19:55, 30 December 2020
Many primary schools in Kent will not reopen next week, the government has revealed.
Eleven districts across the county have been included in a nationwide list of areas with coronavirus infection rates too high to reopen primary schools.
The affected areas are Dartford, Gravesham, Sevenoaks, Medway, Ashford, Maidstone, Tonbridge and Malling, Tunbridge Wells, Swale, Bexley and Bromley.
In those areas, only vulnerable children and the children of key workers will be allowed to return to schools.
The list published on the Gov.uk website this evening means that primary schools in districts not listed will be reopening as normal on Monday.
Secondary school reopening has been pushed back by a week for GCSE and A Level students and for two weeks for all other age groups.
Speaking in the commons earlier, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: "Dealing with this pandemic has always been an exercise in managing risk.
"We have been adamant that educating children has been an absolute priority and keeping schools open has been paramount.
"However, we must act swiftly when circumstances change."
Mr Williamson also announced that the majority of primary schools will be reopening as planned, save for "a small number of areas where the infection rates are highest".
No formal date has been given for the schools to reopen, with the government instead saying that the measures "will be reviewed again" by January 18.
Richard Long, Kent County Council’s education chief, said: “The vast majority of Kent schools have remained open throughout the entirety of the pandemic – for vulnerable learners and the children of key workers in the first lockdown, and for all pupils since September. School staff have done a fantastic job of managing extremely difficult circumstances effectively and safely and I have every confidence they will continue to do so.
“We will support secondary schools with the regular testing of symptom-free staff, and of pupils and staff who have come into contact with someone who has tested positive after pupils return to school in mid-January. This regular rapid testing will allow more pupils and staff to remain in school as they will not have to automatically self-isolate if someone in their bubble tests positive. We would encourage all schools to offer this testing but only when they have sufficient measures in place to allow them to do so safely. This will not happen at the same time for all schools and head teachers will contact parents/carers with information about testing for their children as soon as arrangements are in place.
“I would like to remind everyone that as well as taking advantage of testing opportunities, they should continue to follow Tier 4 restrictions and government guidelines on handwashing, social distancing and the wearing of face coverings to minimise the spread of the virus and reduce the pressure on the NHS.”
Analysis from My Kent Family editor Lauren Abbott
My children's school was forced to close three and a half weeks ago and return to home schooling when cases swept through, mirroring the worsening picture across Kent.
And despite news of the mutant more contagious strain more than a week ago and rocketing hospital cases across most of the county in December, ministers vowed over Christmas that primary schools would remain open.
But yet four days from the start of term and once again there is another last-minute change of plan.
I don't believe any parent in Kent is surprised, and I'm sure the majority of families are willing to do what it takes to bring cases down for the safety of schools, teachers and older family members, but the lack of notice is frustrating to say the least.
Both schools and parents have been under immense pressure for the past nine months and 11th hour changes, which most probably could have predicted, just add to the strain everyone is under.