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Schools would “absolutely” be the last premises the government would look to shut down in a local lockdown, the business secretary has said.
But Alok Sharma did not rule out the idea of introducing a rota system for school pupils if there is a coronavirus outbreak in their local area as a way of keeping their education going.
It follows reports that the government is considering making secondary schools operate on a rota basis if they are in an area under local lockdown after classrooms begin to reopen next week.
Asked about the idea, Sharma told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We’re going to have to look at local lockdown issues on a case-by-case basis, the priority though is to get children back to school.”
He went on: “I think if we were in a local lockdown, schools would be absolutely the last sector we would want to close.
“This is about the life chances of children, making sure they get the start that they deserve in life.
“That’s why I think there is a moral duty as the prime minister said to get schools back up and running.”
Sharma meanwhile refused to budge on the issue of face masks, despite Nicola Sturgeon preparing to recommend that secondary school pupils in Scotland wear coverings in corridors and communal areas.
The business secretary underlined Public Health England advice that face coverings are not necessary if other hygiene measures are in place as pupils and staff will mix in “consistent groups”.
It came as the founder of the Oasis academy chain Steve Chalke said he had booked visors and masks for all school staff and masks for secondary students for “transition in corridors”, as well as booking extra space.
Sharma suggested schools would not be penalised for taking unilateral action to introduce face coverings, telling Today: “I don’t think we want to go down the road of penalising people, this is about what makes sense.”