Ministers are considering changing the school year in England to keep classrooms open for longer in the summer term to help pupils recover from lockdown, it was claimed today.
Number 10 is said to be weighing up a two-week extension in the warmer months, potentially cutting into the summer holidays, with the holiday time redistributed to existing breaks in the autumn and winter.
One of the attractions for ministers of extending the summer term is that the weather would likely allow windows and doors to be kept open in school buildings to improve ventilation and reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading.
Many schools across England are due to break up for the summer holidays on Friday July 23.
A two-week extension would therefore see pupils continuing to attend class during the first week of August.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the earliest schools in England can reopen is March 8
Data from the Department for Health shows that Britain recorded 15,845 cases today, down by 25 per cent from 21,088 cases last Sunday. The number of daily Covid-related deaths fell 36 per cent week-on-week, from 587 last Sunday down to 373 today, the figures show
Nadhim Zahawi says AstraZeneca is ‘confident’ its vaccine prevents serious illness caused by South African strain
Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi today said AstraZeneca is ‘confident’ its jab prevents serious illness caused by the South African coronavirus variant after early data from a small study suggested the vaccine was less effective against the strain.
Mr Zahawi said he had spoken to England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van Tam this morning about the study as he insisted the vaccine ‘does protect against severe disease’.
He said that through its own trials AstraZeneca is ‘confident that it does effectively deal with serious illness, serious disease and hospitalisation’.
Meanwhile, Mr Zahawi revealed that the UK’s vaccine roll-out almost hit 1,000 jabs a minute yesterday as he said he believes the Government will have vaccinated all over-50s by May.
A small trial of just 2,026 people in South Africa found the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab had ‘limited efficacy’ in protecting against mild and moderate disease caused by the mutant strain, which has been found in 11 people in the UK who have not recently travelled from abroad.
However, nobody died or was hopitalised during the study by South Africa‘s University of the Witwatersrand and Oxford University, which has not yet been published but has been seen by the Financial Times.
Boris Johnson has said schools across England will not reopen until March 8 at the earliest.
The Prime Minister has said he will publish a lockdown exit strategy later this month amid mounting pressure from Tory MPs to bring forward a return to classrooms.
Changing the school year is one of a number of options reportedly being looked at by Number 10 as the Government develops its plans to help students catch up on lost time.
It is thought the two weeks of lost summer holidays could be added to the autumn half-term and the Christmas holidays, according to the Sunday Times.
Extending those holidays would also provide a longer so-called ‘fire break’ in the colder months, providing more time for infections to fall.
Robert Halfon, the Conservative chairman of the Education Select Committee, told the newspaper that the change to the school year is under consideration by ministers.
He said: ‘We have to reform the school year. There has to be change; things cannot carry on the way they did pre-Covid. From my discussions with No10, everything is up for debate.’
The Welsh government has already suggested it could move to extend the summer term.
Kirsty Williams, the Welsh education minister, told WalesOnline last week: ‘At the moment our focus is on the here and now and trying to get children back to face to face teaching.
‘But I think we do need to have a conversation about how the pandemic might look in the autumn and winter and whether, when we are thinking about mitigating against the impact of Covid and keeping our schools, and those who work in them, safe, is it possible whether there is scope for shifting the academic year, maybe shortening the summer holiday and ensuring we have a firebreak at [autumn] half term or an extended Christmas holiday when we know the potential public health scenario might deteriorate again.’
The Sunday Telegraph reported that some private schools are preparing similar plans amid fears that Mr Johnson could delay a return to the classroom beyond March 8.
Ministers are said to be considering extending the summer term to help pupils catch up after lockdown
Vaccine passports will NOT be issued by the Government
Vaccine passports will not be introduced by the Government but people will be able to ask their GP for proof they have had a jab should it be a requirement for travel, a minister has said.
Nadhim Zahawi ruled out the prospect of state-issued documentation showing whether someone has had a coronavirus vaccine.
However, with some countries expected in the future to insist on proof of vaccination as a condition of entry, the Vaccines Minister said travellers will be able to obtain written proof from their doctor to show to border officials.
Asked whether the Government is considering issuing vaccine passports, Mr Zahawi told Sophy Ridge on Sky News: ’No, we’re not. One, we don’t know the impact of the vaccines on transmission.
‘Two, it would be discriminatory and I think the right thing to do is to make sure that people come forward to be vaccinated because they want to rather than it be made in some way mandatory through a passport.
‘If other countries obviously require some form of proof, then you can ask your GP because your GP will hold your records and that will then be able to be used as your proof you’ve had the vaccine. But we are not planning to have a passport in the UK.’
Some private schools are looking at bringing forward the Easter holidays to make more time for the summer term.
Geoff Barton, from the ASCL head teachers’ union, said changes to the school year should not happen now.
He said: ’It’s nice to think about doing things differently, and this is the moment to rethink them. But anyone trying to force that through this summer will find people are just craving getting back to normal.’
It emerged last week that ministers are also considering plans to extend the school day.
The idea is being pushed by some Tory MPs and the Government is said to be receptive to it.
However, teaching unions have urged ministers to reject the proposals, claiming there are ’better methods’ to help pupils catch up on lost time in the classroom.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said: ‘Research evidence shows that there are better methods to help pupils than lengthening the school day.
‘The Government must filter out loud calls for superficially attractive schemes and listen to the experts instead.’
Should teaching unions try to stand in the way of the move if the Government adopts the proposals, volunteers could cover the extended lessons, according to The Times.
Downing Street said last Friday that the Government is working with teachers and parents on catch-up plans, adding: ’The PM acknowledges that extended schools closures have had a huge impact on pupils’ learning which will clearly take time to make up.’
Mr Johnson last week refused to bow to demands to bring forward the reopening of schools.
He told a Downing Street press conference: ‘We have got to make a judgement about the effectiveness of the vaccines in bringing down the death rate and bringing down serious illness.
WHO chief claims it is morally wrong for wealthy countries to buy up vaccine supplies as he urges them to share
Britain should divert some of its vaccine supplies to developing countries once the most vulnerable have been given the jab, a World Health Organisation chief argued today as he said it would be morally wrong not to share.
Dr David Nabarro, the WHO’s special envoy on Covid-19, said ‘the world should be accessing these vaccines in an equal way’ as he called on politicians to do the ‘right thing’.
He said political leaders need to realise that a vaccine divide between rich and poor nations ‘is not really the way to go ahead, economically, socially, environmentally and indeed morally’.
He also suggested history will be unkind to countries which do not share supplies as he said politicians should consider how they will be ‘remembered in 10 or 20 years’ time’.
Dr Nabarro also said he ‘can’t rule anything out’ when he was asked to rule out the theory that coronavirus could have escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, China.
‘That judgement we are going to make in the week of the [February] 15th. We are going to look at all the data, we have seen some promising stuff from Israel but to the best of my knowledge we are not yet seeing the kind of conclusive data that we need on that key point.
‘Then we want to be waiting to ensure that after February 15 we leave three weeks for all the JCVI cohorts one to four, all those most vulnerable groups… have allowed their vaccination immunity to be acquired and as you know it takes about three weeks for it to properly set in.
‘That speaks to a date of about March 8. Then of course you need to give the schools two weeks notice to open.
‘For all those reasons we think that’s the sensible date. I just would say to people who understandably want to go faster, I share that anxiety and that urgency because we fought so hard and for so long to try to keep schools open, I think that was a reasonable thing to do, but what we don’t want to do now that we are making progress with the vaccine roll-out and we have got a timetable for the way ahead, we don’t want to be forced into reverse.
‘So we think this is the prudent and cautious approach and I think it much better to stick to that.’
Tory MPs have stepped up their calls for a quicker return to classrooms as case numbers have fallen and the UK’s vaccine roll-out has progressed better than expected.
Many want Mr Johnson to follow Nicola Sturgeon’s lead after she said pupils in Scotland will start going back from February 22.
Meanwhile, fresh analysis by Oxford University which showed its vaccine can reduce the potential for passing on infection also caused a spike in optimism.
Mark Harper, the chairman of the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, said: ’The PM said… that reopening schools was a ”national priority”.
‘Now that Scotland has indicated that schools are likely to return from February 22, there needs to be a very good reason for keeping English schools shut for so much longer.’
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