We Won’t Shut Down Schools, Vows Gavin Williamson After 10 Government U-Turns

Education secretary suggestions pubs and restaurants would be closed down before schools if there is a significant coronavirus outbreak.

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Gavin Williamson has said he “never” expects to shut down all English schools again in response to the coronavirus pandemic, as he defended the latest of numerous government U-turns.

The education secretary said closing down schools was an “absolute last resort” as he explained why the government had decided to make face masks mandatory for secondary pupils in school corridors and communal areas in locked down areas.

Williamson rejected suggestions that rota systems could be introduced for pupils in areas with significant coronavirus outbreaks, saying he had “high confidence that we will be able to run a full education system”.

And he stressed that other premises like pubs or restaurants would be closed down before schools if the government needed to get a grip on a second wave of infections.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We have been clear at every stage, we do not expect, we never expect to be in a situation where we will be closing all schools down right across the country.

“What you have seen is that we’ve put in a set of controls in schools to ensure they are safe.

“The very, very, very last thing that will ever be looked at as being closed is schools, it will be the last thing that is ever looked at, and there are all the other things we would rather put restrictions on and close rather than schools ever being closed.

“It is the absolute last resort.”

Williamson is facing a significant Tory backlash over the U-turn on face masks, having insisted as recently as Monday that he would not be following Scotland’s announcement that secondary pupils there will be required to wear face coverings in between lessons.

Asked if he wanted to be in the same job this time next year, the education secretary said: “I love the job, I have one of the best jobs in government.”

Williamson also ruled out extending mandatory requirements for face coverings in schools to bring England into line with Scotland.

He told the BBC: “No, no, there’s no intention of extending it beyond that because as both (Dr Jenny Harries) said and (Schools minister Nick Gibb) said is that actually that isn’t what is required.

“But where you’re seeing in local lockdown areas, we recognise the importance in making sure that we maintain education in every part of the country.

“The last thing that we ever want to see close is schools, and we need to ensure that all schools are open so that children are able to access our world-class education that we all want to see them benefiting from.”


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