Why are schools across the UK reopening on different dates?

Richard Adams Education editor
·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

When will schools in the UK reopen?

The Scottish government plans to reopen its primary schools after half-term, on 22 February, but initially only for pupils in the three youngest year groups and for some older children taking qualifications. England is waiting until at least 8 March, two weeks later, to start reopening schools.

How can Scotland reopen schools while England can’t?

Education policy is devolved to national administrations, so the government in Westminster has no say over schools outside of England. Infection rates for Covid-19 among the general population are twice as high in England as in Scotland, meaning there is far greater community transmission of the virus. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) last week estimated that one in 55 people in England were infected, including one in 35 in London, while in Scotland the rate was one in 110. To put it another way: case rates in England are nearly 282 per 100,000 people, compared with close to 142 per 100,000 in Scotland.

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What about Wales and Northern Ireland?

Wales has said it may reopen schools along the same lines as Scotland, from 22 February, but only if its Covid-19 infection rates continue to fall. The latest figures show one in 70 of the population infected as of last week. Northern Ireland has a higher rate of infection, with one in every 50 people estimated by the ONS to have been infected. As a result Northern Ireland, like England, is waiting until 8 March at the earliest for schools to return.

Why has the government in England picked 8 March?

At Wednesday’s press conference, Boris Johnson said the government’s top four priority groups would have acquired immunity after their first vaccination at least three weeks earlier by that date. Asked if schools could open before then, Johnson said data on the impact of vaccinations would not be ready until 15 February, and he wanted to be “prudent and cautious”.

Is 8 March a definitive date for reopening?

No. Some scientists and officials insist that a further delay may be needed. Calum Semple, a member of Sage, has said there are still “very high levels” of community transmission that could require schools to continue to allow only the children of critical workers and those in care or needing support to attend in person, as they have since the start of term. Others say reopening may need to be delayed so the spread of the worrying South African variant can be kept in check.

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