The education secretary Gavin Williamson has warned there could be an “enormous battle” in government to keep secondary schools open in January.
Officials from the Department for Education and No 10 are expected to meet on Sunday in light of a warning from scientists that closures may be necessary to slow the spread of the new coronavirus variant.
Mr Williamson is said to have privately expressed concern that fellow government ministers more in favour of restrictions will press for closures, according to The Sunday Telegraph.
The government announced plans last week for a staggered return next month for secondary schools and colleges to help headteachers roll out mass testing of students, with exam years, vulnerable children and key workers’ children to go back as normal on 4 January, while others will do remote learning. All students are expected back by 11 January.
Labour has called for clarity over the January return for schools, with Kate Green, the shadow education secretary, and Wes Streeting, the shadow schools minister, having written to Mr Williamson urging him to provide answers for parents, pupils and staff about reopening schools after Christmas.
They said questions on the return of pupils – and evidence about the spread of Covid-19 among young people – must be answered immediately, “not a matter of hours or days” before students are expected to go back.
A government spokesperson said: “We want all pupils to return in January as school is the best place for their development and mental health, but as the prime minister has said, it is right that we follow the path of the pandemic and keep our approach under constant review.
“Our huge expansion of rapid testing will support secondary schools and colleges to stay open to all pupils and reduce the risk of transmission within local communities.”
Pupil measurements accelerated amid fears of obesity crisis
Labour demands clarity on January school return
If Labour wants to rebuild the Red Wall, it should focus on education