Gavin Williamson has said he would “certainly hope” to reopen schools in England before Easter, as he stressed that teachers, parents and children will be given a two-week notice period before classrooms return to in-person teaching.
Three weeks after Boris Johnson ordered the closure of all schools, the education secretary said they be the first to reopen when national coronavirus restrictions are eased, saying he wanted children back in classrooms “at the earliest possible opportunity”.
Mr Williamson also sidestepped questions whether there was a “crisis in confidence” in his leadership at the Department for Education — after his opposite number on the Labour frontbench called for his resignation earlier this week.
Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether there was any realistic prospect of schools opening before Easter, he replied: “I would certainly hope that that would be certainly before Easter.
"Any decision to open schools to all children is based on the best health advice and the best scientific advice.
“The reason that we were placed in the position to close schools to all but the children of critical workers and vulnerable children was down to the mounting pressure on the NHS."
The cabinet minister added: “Schools were the last to close, schools will be the first to open. It won’t surprise you for one moment that as education secretary I want to see them as soon as the scientific and health advice is there to open at the earliest possible stage.
However, Mr Williamson was unable to provide any exact date, outlining that one of the “key criteria” for reopening schools would be whether pressure on the NHS was lifting.
Pressed on his own position, the embattled minister also told Times Radio it was more important to discuss new government initiatives to help those in need.
"This is about millions of youngsters, making sure they get the right skills in order to be able to move into work, making sure they're not taking courses that are not leading them into a job.
"We want to make sure that a person of any age can access really high quality training.
"It may be fascinating to talk about politicians but I think it's more important to talk about the actual millions of people whose lives that we believe that we can change."
Kate Green, the shadow education, said earlier this week that Mr Williamson must resign as she accused him of “failing children throughout the pandemic” and that his record during the crisis had been “shambolic”.