JANUARY exams will still go ahead despite schools remaining shut in coronavirus hotspots.
It comes as Education secretary Gavin Williamson yesterday confirmed thousands of schoolchildren would stay at home for an extra two weeks after the Christmas break amid a surge in infections.
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Mr Williamson said yesterday he would do "everything" to keep children in school, and the majority of primary schools will reopen on Monday, January 4.
But, in nearly 50 Tier 4 areas where infection rates are highest, all schools will have to close, including primaries, until at least January 18 – but this will be reviewed every two weeks.
That includes most of London, Essex, Kent, and a handful of areas in Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and East Sussex – but key workers and vulnerable pupils can still attend.
Meanwhile, students set to sit GCSEs and A-levels will return on January 11.
Mr Williamson yesterday confirmed that, despite the disruption, exams pencilled in for January would still go ahead.
He told the House of Commons: “Those assessments will continue as planned in those establishments that are delivering them.
“We made the decision about the importance of those youngsters being able to continue to take those qualifications over the coming weeks.”
According to the Association of Colleges, some 135,000 students are due to sit exams over the next three weeks, the TES reports.
The message was reiterated by Northern Ireland education minister Peter Weir, who said this morning that schools would have flexibility to deliver face-to-face learning for pupils due to sit those exams if they wished.
He added: “The Department of Education, the Department of Health, the Education Authority and the Public Health Agency have worked closely throughout the pandemic to maintain the education of children, to reduce the risk of outbreaks and to respond when these occur.”
It comes as the Education Secretary said he is "absolutely confident" that secondary schools will be able to run a mass testing regime with an extra week to prepare.
He told Sky News: "In terms of secondary year groups, the reason that we have moved that back is so we give all schools, every single school, every single college that teaches secondary-age pupils the opportunity to roll out a mass testing regime, making sure we root out this coronavirus."
Asked if a week was enough time to prepare for a functioning mass testing system, Mr Williamson said: "We are absolutely confident that it is.
"We'll be seeing all the testing equipment that is needed for schools being delivered on the 4th January, schools have already had notice of the guidance of what they need to do, they've also had notification of the extra £78 million that we're offering."
The first starter packs of up to 1,000 test kits will only arrive at all secondary schools and colleges on 04 January – meaning schools face weeks of delays before being able to test everyone.
1,500 military personnel are on hand to help with the tests.
Matt Hancock has now plunged three-quarters of England into Tier 4 – meaning millions of kids are set to miss out on yet more classroom time because of the pandemic – and will have to learn at home.
The Health Secretary yestetday told MPs all of the North East of England, the South West and most of the Midlands would be thrown into Tier 4.
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