Behind the scenes

Coronavirus: when will the UK’s schools reopen?

Tory MPs threaten to revolt over plans to keep pupils at home until May

Gavin Williamson will take on furious Tory backbenchers in the Commons this afternoon amid a growing row about when children will be sent back to school.

Education Select Committee chair Robert Halfon has “demanded the education secretary appear in Parliament today” following reports that classrooms may remain closed after the February half-term, says The Sun.

“The whole engine of the state must do everything possible to get our schools open after half-term as was originally proposed,” Halfon told The Guardian yesterday.

Williamson’s appearance in front of MPs comes as a dozen Conservative backbenchers threaten to revolt against the government by backing a campaign to fully reopen schools immediately. The rebels have warned Boris Johnson that education has become an “optional extra” as a result of the coronavirus shutdown and that school children are the pandemic’s “forgotten victims”.

Former cabinet minister Esther McVey and 1922 Committee chair Graham Brady are among the Tories who have teamed up with parents’ pressure group UsforThem to demand that schools welcome back all pupils.

McVey told The Telegraph that UK lawmakers “genuinely seem to have forgotten about school children. Millions of them are missing out on an education, not developing socially with their friends and aren’t allowed to enrich their lives by playing sports and music any more.”

Tory MP Tom Tugendhat  echoed that warning yesterday, tweeting: “Closed schools increases inequality, exposes the most vulnerable, and creates gaps that cannot be filled.”

The backlash against the shutdown is gathering strength after The Sunday Times reported that children may “not go back to school next month and may not return to the classroom until after the Easter holidays”.

A government source told the paper: “We are in this for the long haul. We are going to start giving parents more information so they can start managing their expectations. Although we have not arrived at an exact date when we think schools will go back, it will not be after half-term.”

Various plans are currently on the table for reopening schools. The government’s deputy chief medical officer, Jenny Harries has “said the return could vary according to local infection rates”, with schools reopening on a phased, region-by-region basis, the BBC reports.

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